You are here: UK arms sales call into question Government's commitment to international law
6 January 2016
On the world stage, successive UK governments have championed robust arms control policies. However, controversy surrounding recent UK exports at a time of reduced parliamentary oversight call into question Britain's commitment to the Arms Trade Treaty and signal a possible step back in terms of UK leadership on arms control.
As highlighted by UNA-UK's Chairman, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, in The Times (column reproduced below), the UK has granted 104 export licenses for military goods to Saudi Arabia since that country intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
Since then, the UN has reported that over 2,500 civilians have been killed in Yemen - the majority in airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition. According to legal analysis by respected international lawyer Philippe Sands QC, such arms transfers are in breach of the UK's arms export control laws, as well as the Arms Trade Treaty - a binding international agreement intended to reduce the human suffering caused by illegal and irresponsible arms transfers.
The UK's arms export practices are emblematic of concerns raised by Britain’s most senior Foreign Office official, Simon McDonald, who warned that the “prosperity agenda” was now “further up the list” of Foreign Office priorities than human rights.
Mr McDonald's view is supported by the UK's recently published National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review, which reveals plans for additional support to promote UK arms exports, including the establishment of a dedicated team to support the negotiation and delivery of government-to-government defence and security deals.
UNA-UK calls on the Government to conduct an urgent review of the end use of its arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and other countries of human rights concern, to ensure human rights come before business interests and to set a positive example by implementing the Arms Trade Treaty to a high standard. UNA-UK also calls on the members of the four select committees (on business, defence, foreign affairs, and international development) to reform the CAEC and resume scrutiny of the UK's arms exports as a top priority.
Image: UK-built Tornado G4 aircraft similar to those sold to Saudi Arabia. (c) Crown Copyright under the OGL (Open Government License), source: RAF