UK arms trade with Saudi Arabia legal, rules High Court

Written by Emilio Casalicchio and Tom Freeman on 10 July 2017 in News

Anger after judge rules UK weapons used in Yemen were sold legally to Saudi Arabia

Theresa May visits Saudi Arabia - credit Number 10

Controversial British weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are legal, the High Court ruled today after seeing secret evidence.

Campaigners lost a case calling for arms sales to the Kingdom to be stopped amid concern over human rights violations in Yemen.

But Mr Justice Haddon-Cave dismissed the claim – arguing the decision to continue with arms contracts was "lawful".


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UK weapons sold to Saudi Arabia include Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, as well as precision-guided bombs.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the Government had decided to "look the other way and bank the massive cheques".

In its campaign to prop up the Yemeni government against rebels, the Saudis have hit numerous non-military targets and killed scores of civilians, according to the United Nations.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade, which brought the case, argued there was a "clear risk" that arms sold by Britain to Riyadh could be used to break humanitarian law.

But after seeing secret evidence, Haddon-Cave ruled: “We have concluded that the material decisions of the secretary of state were lawful. We therefore dismiss the claim.”

Ministers argued the evidence in support of its continued sales had to be heard in secret due to national security concerns.

Judges said the evidence showed the Government could conclude the Saudis were not targeting civilians intentionally and were investigating allegations of civilian casualties.

But a UN report leaked last year described "widespread and systematic" targeting of civilians by the Saudis – including on schools, weddings and hospitals.

Farron said: “The Government might be acting lawfully but in the court of public opinion they are guilty of selling weapons that are being used against civilians in a brutal and bloody civil war....

"It seems this Government decide to look the other way and bank the massive cheques but don’t hold the Saudis to account...

“How many innocent people must die, with weapons emblazoned with ‘Made in UK’ before this Government find a backbone?”

Green co-leader Caroline Lucas said: "Today's verdict might mean that the Government is on the right side of the law for now, but it doesn't give any moral justification for their utterly unethical actions when it comes to arms sales.

"While the strict legal verdict is that arms sales can continue, the only morally justifiable way forward would be an immediate arms embargo to Saudi Arabia."

The UK has sold £3bn worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in the past two years.

Last year the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the Defence Select Committee recommended the suspension of sales until an independent inquiry into alleged human rights breaches has been completed.

Since the conflict started in March 2015, thousands of people have been killed in fighting between Houthi rebels and the Yemeni army, which remains loyal to President Hadi.

Oxfam said the ruling had "set back arms control 25 years".

UK chief executive Mark Goldring said: "With little legal oversight on arms sales it is now imperative that Parliament holds the Government to account."

Meanwhile George Graham, director of conflict and humanitarian policy at Save the Children, said: “We can be proud of the difference the UK is making in Yemen – British aid is keeping children alive. But at the same time, our weapons are helping to fuel a war that is killing children and destroying their schools and hospitals. As a nation, our greatest export should be hope, not fear."

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