Royal Saudi Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons. Calls have been made for the UK to follow the US in halting Yemen-related arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy
By Dan Sabbagh
Britain faced fresh calls to end unrestricted arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the US published a CIA assessment which concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Charities, civil rights groups and others said the disclosure threw the UK’s traditionally close relationship with Riyadh into stark relief in the aftermath of the release of the short but unambiguous report.
Aid agency Oxfam argued that the UK should respond to the increasingly assertive approach taken by the Biden administration, which has already said it would halt arms sales to Riyadh that could be used in the long-running war in Yemen.
Muhsin Siddiquey, Oxfam’s country cirector in Yemen, said: “At a time that the US seems to be evaluating its relationship with Saudi Arabia we would urge the UK government to do the same and stop its arms sales to Saudi Arabia which are fuelling the conflict in Yemen.
“Over 12,000 civilian lives have been lost since the start of the war with atrocities on all sides. We need an immediate ceasefire to ensure no more innocent Yemenis are killed and that humanitarian agencies have safe access to deliver the support they need.”
Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the UK defence select committee, reiterated a call he had made for the UK to follow the US in halting Yemen-related arms sales. “The CIA report is unambiguous in its conclusions and this will be inevitably be an embarrassment and shame to the wider country.”
The MP called on Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family to respond swiftly “in response to the loss in international confidence and trust of the crown prince” and the “wider cultural atmosphere that allowed such decision making to go unchallenged”. Last July, Britain subject 20 individuals suspected of involvement in the murder of Khashoggi to economic sanctions, although as with the US on Friday, the UK has refrained from targeting the crown prince personally.
But the UK otherwise maintained a close diplomatic and military relationship with Riyadh, and is the second largest arms exporter to the country after the US. When sales of weapons that could be used in the conflict of Yemen were restarted by the UK last summer, after a court imposed review, it emerged that £1.4bn of bombs, missiles and other arms had been exported to the Gulf kingdom.
Anna Stavrianakis, a professor in international relations at the University of Sussex, said that the UK’s open arms policy had “helped maintain the legitimacy of the regime” but that was coming under growing pressure after the change of administration in Washington.
“The publication of such a clear cut CIA assessment puts the UK in an increasingly tricky position on arms sales. Until now it has been able to privilege its relationship with the Saudi leadership over domestic critics and other EU states because of the orientation of the former Trump administration.” The Open Society Justice Initiative, a US group thatsought the disclosure of the assessment via a lawsuit lodged in New York, said that the UK and key allies should join the US in imposing sanctions on bin Salman and “suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”
Source: The Guardian