In Glenrothes, the best work in town is with Raytheon. But with Britain's arms sales to countries like Saudi Arabia under intense scrutiny, locals face a difficult decisionby Arron Merat / March 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
This piece was originally published in March 2020. On 7th July, the UK announced it would resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Below is Arron Merat’s update.
In 2019, the Court of Appeal judged that ministers at the Department for International Trade (DIT) had illegally signed off licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia due to a failure to assess the risk to civilians in Yemen. The court banned ministers from issuing new licences, ordering the secretary of state to conduct a review into the processes and procedures that led to British arms destroying marketplaces, hospitals, schools as well as food and water infrastructure in Yemen. On 7th July 2020, Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, came back to parliament with that review and announced that she would start signing new licences to the Kingdom, “clearing the backlog of licence applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that has built up since 20th June last year.”
Her argument was twofold. Saudi Arabia, she said, does not show “a lack of commitment… [to] comply with international humanitarian law,” and, while bombs had hit civilians, they constituted “isolated incidents” rather than “a pattern” because they “occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons.” But her argument was self-serving. The NGO Mwatana and GLAN, a law firm, submitted to the government evidence marrying testimony with bomb crater and satellite analysis of 12 civilian strikes conducted by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, which Riyadh denied even happened. One in al-Hunood market in Hodeidah city on 21st September 2016 killed 23 people, including a two year old. Contrary to the evidence, Saudi Arabia denied that on 15th March 2017, its forces had struck a boat carrying 140 Somali migrants and refugees and four Yemeni crew resulting in 41 people killed or missing.
Furthermore, the fact that a school, a market, a mosque and a water well are “different,” and may well have been bombed “at different times,” does not mean their destruction by British bombs is not a pattern. It seems Britain’s commercial interests are not something the British judiciary will interfere with. The Export Control Act now appears a dead letter.
On the same day that Truss made the announcement, Tory MP Mark Garnier was appointed as Chair of the Committees on Arms Export Controls…