30 SEP 2019
Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia
Thank you for contacting me about the export of arms from the UK. I believe that the Saudi Arabian government does not share British values, including human rights and the rule of law. Their repeated violation and disregard for human rights should have ruled them out as an arms trading partner long ago.
As you note, a legal challenge was recently brought forward by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which accused the UK government of licensing the sale of arms when there was a clear risk that their use could breach international humanitarian law.
The court of appeal which ruled on the challenge has declared the sale of arms used in Yemen to Saudi Arabia as unlawful because they contributed to civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing.
This court ruling was monumental. Liberal Democrats have long called for a policy of presumption of denial to be implemented on all arms export licences. This would mean that countries listed as human rights priorities (i.e. abusers) in the Annual Foreign Office Human Rights report would be automatically barred from receiving arms exports. There is, after all, no excuse for providing arms to governments across the world which we acknowledge as undermining human rights.
However, Liz Truss, International Trade Secretary recently admitted that two "inadvertent" breaches had occurred, and new licences had been granted. This is a clear violation of international humanitarian law, for which, the Secretary of State should be held responsible.
Liberal Democrats have a strong and consistent history of opposing arms sales to Saudi Arabia. We are ashamed of our Conservative Government which has been more interested in trade deals than defending human rights. Liberal Democrats have repeatedly called on the Conservative Government to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia – this was a pledge made in our 2017 manifesto.
While acting as Party Leader in 2007, Vince Cable MP boycotted the state visit of the Saudi King Abdullah due to Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record and British arms sales to the country. In his role as Business Secretary during Coalition Government, Vince Cable also introduced tougher restrictions on arms sales and insisted upon additional safeguards before approving particular licences.
Liberal Democrats will continue to call on the Conservative Government to implement a presumption of denial on all arms export licences for those countries listed as human rights priorities.
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