Britain is prolonging the war in Yemen through its sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, warned Oxfam in a scathing response to government documents released yesterday showing a large increase in export licenses of UK arms destined for the kingdom. The increase comes as major UK allies decided to suspend arms sales over concerns about their use in the war in Yemen now entering its sixth year.
The approved licences include equipment for the maintenance of Saudi fighter jets and in-flight refuelling that will allow Saudi aircraft to fly for long periods. The UK also issued open licences for bombs, missiles and rockets worth £1.4 billion ($1.9 billion) in 2020, and a further, unlimited amount until 2025.
The news sparked criticism from the British charity. "As the US has called for an end to the conflict in Yemen, the UK is heading in the opposite direction, ramping up its support for the brutal Saudi-led war by increasing arms sales and refuelling equipment that facilitate airstrikes," said Sam Nadel, head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam.
"The UK claims to support peace in Yemen. It can start by immediately ending the sale of all arms that risk being used against civilians and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis," Nadel added.
Last month, the new Biden administration said it would halt the sales of all arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in what was seen as a significant move against the two US allies. Italy has also said that it had halted missile sales to the Gulf kingdom.
The UK government has consistently refused calls to end arms sales to Riyadh and bring its policy towards the Gulf kingdom in line with its major allies. Rejecting calls to end arms sales to Riyadh UK Foreign Office minister, James Cleverly, said earlier this month that "the decisions the US takes on matters of arms sales are decisions for the US. The UK takes its own arms export responsibilities very seriously, and we continue to assess all arms export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria."
The Saudi-led coalition – relying on equipment supplied by the west – has been repeatedly accused of conducting indiscriminate bombing campaigns since entering the conflict in 2015, killing, wounding and displacing civilians.