A court of appeals has overturned a 2017 High Court judgement authorising the UK to continue licensing the export of arms to Saudi Arabia.
The appeal hearing comes amidst global concern for the humanitarian consequences of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which has recently entered its fifth year. The UN has warned that the humanitarian crisis in Yemen not only remains the worst in the world, but that it is worsening year upon year.
A report released by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (Acled) project reveals the death toll in Yemen is close to 100,000. Of great concern has been the targeting of civilians – Acled documents 4,500 incidents in which civilians have been targeted leading to 11,700 deaths.
It also finds that the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for 67 per cent of fatalities and the Houthis and their allies over 16 per cent.
Despite urgent appeals from human rights organisations, since the war started the UK has licensed some £4.7 billion worth of arms to the Kingdom, which is the largest buyer of British-made arms, and dozens of Saudi officers have been trained at British military colleges including Sandhurst.
Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle has said that this was “the tip of the iceberg of British enablement of the Saudi war machine to devastate the people of Yemen.”
Conservative leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has previously lobbied Germany to relax its arms sales ban to Saudi, whilst frontrunner Boris Johnson recommended Saudi buy bomb parts expected to be deployed in Yemen, a day after a food factory was destroyed by an air strike.
The legal action, which was brought against the UK by the Campaign Against Arms Trade, was done so on the basis that export licenses should not be granted if there is a clear risk exports might be used in violation of International Humanitarian Law.
Smith says that UK arms companies have “profited every step of the way” from the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world:”
“We welcome this verdict, but it should never have taken a court case brought by campaigners to force the Government to follow its own rules. The Saudi Arabian regime is one of the most brutal and repressive in the world, yet, for decades, it has been the largest buyer of UK-made arms. No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK.”
Though news of the verdict comes as a relief, judges presiding over the case have not ruled that the sales should be immediately suspended, just that the government “reconsider the matter.”
Rosa Curling of Leigh Day, who represented CAAT, said: “The government will now have to reconsider whether to suspend existing export licenses and reconsider its decision to continue to grant licences. Our client hopes the government will reconsider quickly and will decide that no further licences should be granted.”