The UK government has apologised for breaking its own pledge not to licence export of arms to Saudi Arabia that could be used in the conflict in Yemen. The breach, which the UK’s International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, described as “inadvertent”, has raised wider concerns over negligence within Number 10 concerning its lucrative arms deal with Riyadh.
In a letter to the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls yesterday, Truss admitted to two separate breaches of the undertaking given to the court of appeal earlier this year that it would not “grant any new licences for the export of arms or military equipment to Saudi Arabia for possible use in the conflict in Yemen”.
These undertaking are related to a judgement by the court of appeal which in June concluded that UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia are unlawful. Under UK export policy, military equipment licences should not be granted if there is a “clear risk” that weapons might be used in a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”, judges explained. Existing licences should be reviewed, they added.
Truss, who described the breach as “inadvertent”. said that it was first identified earlier this month “during a routine analysis by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).” It concerns the export of air coolers for a Renault Sherpa Light Scout, a high mobility vehicle used by the military to cross difficult terrains, and the second breach involves the export of 260 items of various radio spares.
A third contravention related to the export of arms to the UAE was acknowledged by the government. According to Truss this particular licence was not a breach of the undertaking by the British government to the court, but it nevertheless identified as being “inconsistent with the commitment given to Parliament” by her predecessor, Liam Fox.
Truss said she had “apologised to the Court unreservedly for the error in granting these two licences” and informed the Commons Committee that an internal investigation had been launched to establish whether other licences had been issued against the assurances to the court or parliament, and to ensure there could be no further breaches.
Responding to the government’s apology, Campaign Against Arms Trade Media Coordinator Andrew Smith is quoted by the BBC saying: “We are always being told how rigorous and robust UK arms export controls supposedly are, but this shows that nothing could be further from the truth.”