Despite a court ruling that UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful, the British government has invited representatives from Riyadh to the world’s largest arms fair scheduled to take place in London in September.
UK Minister for Trade, Graham Stuart, has confirmed that a Saudi delegation would be invited to the controversial Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) event following a parliamentary question.
The decision has come under attack. Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse called the invite “extremely irresponsible”. Speaking to the Independent, the representative from Bath said that “the Saudi government does not share our liberal values,” and cited the kingdom’s human rights record in criticising the Conservative government.
“Their dismal record on human rights and the rule of law should have disqualified them as an arms trading partner long ago,” said Hobhouse before saying that “inviting a Saudi delegation to DSEI sends entirely the wrong message. It suggests that we are still open to do business with them and gives the Saudi regime our tacit endorsement.”
The controversial event, which is held every two years in the London Excel centre, usually generates large protests from human rights group. The organisers are accused of fuelling war, violence, human rights abuse and political instability across the world. The arms sale offers governments of all shapes and sizes, including autocrats and dictators, as well as some of the worst human rights violators in the world, a chance to get their hands on the most sophisticated killing machines developed by the arms industry.
Protests are expected this year with a sharp focus on the UK’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia. In June a court of appeals ruled that Britain’s arms sale to the Gulf kingdom was unlawful. Its decision was met with joy by human rights groups as it overturned a 2017 High Court judgement that authorised the UK to continue licensing the export of arms to Riyadh, despite strong allegations that British made weapons were being used to commit war crimes in the Yemen war.
The Conservative government however did not accept the decision; ministers went on the offensive and called on the courts to overturn the landmark legal ruling.
Last week Labour MP Fabian Hamilton called for a public inquiry into why ministers have been allowed to disregard evidence that Saudi Arabia was violating international humanitarian law in order to continue the lucrative arms deals with the kingdom.
Hamilton said that “the UK has been on the wrong side of the law for allowing arms exports to Saudi Arabia to continue.”