The government has faced fresh calls to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia as ministers were accused of “turning a blind eye” to war crimes in Yemen.
In a House of Commons debate, MPs urged the government to immediately suspend the sales of arms in order to “restrict Saudi Arabia’s ability to carry out air strikes on Yemenis and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis”.
For more than five years, a Saudi-led coalition has been conducting military operations in Yemen in an attempt to reinstate the country’s internationally-recognised government after much of the Arab state was seized by Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The UK recently resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia after a court ruling previously put a temporary suspension on exports.
An internal government review into the use of weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen concluded that possible breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) were just “isolated incidents”.
The UK is one of the biggest arms suppliers to Saudi Arabia and has sold in excess of £5bn of weapons to the kingdom since 2015.
In the Commons debate on Thursday, Labour MP Sam Tarry told MPs that many of his constituents believed the government “should hang its head in shame at its central role in helping to create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by training, equipping and enabling the Saudi regime to bomb innocent Yemeni civilians”.
“After suspending new arms sales to the Saudi regime last year, the government has resumed its deadly support in July,” he added.
“Once again turning a blind eye to the war crimes that it is enabling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to commit.
“Saudi Arabia is being allowed to bomb Yemen without any form of accountability or investigation, which is completely unacceptable.”
SNP MP Kirsten Oswald said it was “beyond my comprehension” why the UK had resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“The UK government need to explain why they are not following the examples of Canada, Germany, Denmark, the UN, the US Congress and the European Parliament, among others, in calling for an embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, in line with international guidelines on not selling arms to those involved in conflicts that target civilians,” she said.
However, Conservative MP John Howell argued that “unless we can stop the Iranian funding of the Houthi rebels, it is useless to put all the blame, and an arms embargo, on Saudi Arabia”.
“That simply takes one side out of the equation, but leaves the other side fully funded,” he said.
Responding for the government, Middle East minister James Cleverly recognised the concerns about the UK’s arms sales policy.
“We have reviewed it in the light of the Court of Appeal decision, and all sales are measured against the revised set of criteria,” he said.
He also told MPs of the UK government’s worries about a “looming famine” in Yemen.
“The simple truth is that Yemen is closer to famine than at any point since the conflict began,” he said.
According to UNICEF, 10 million children are facing famine in Yemen.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres last week told Sky News he was “extremely worried” by the situation in the war-torn country.