"The British government faces growing calls to review its lucrative arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Yesterday the international charity Oxfam accused Britain of being “one of the most significant violators” of the Arms Trade Treaty.
The UK’s arms sales are, at least in theory, also subject to the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports which forbids “the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression, or contribute to regional instability”. It is difficult to see how Saudi Arabia's ill-conceived intervention in Yemen can be regarded as anything other than a contribution to regional instability.
Statistics compiled by the Campaign Against Arms Trade show that the Yemeni war has brought a sales bonanza for British arms firms. In little more than nine months between the start of the bombing campaign and the end of 2015, the UK government approved licences for military exports to Saudi Arabia worth £2.8 billion ($4 billion) – a huge increase on the previous few years.
The government has clearly been eager not to miss this business opportunity and, longer term, Britain will become even more dependent on trade with countries like Saudi Arabia if it eventually leaves the EU. To justify its position, the government has repeatedly claimed that the Saudis are not committing war crimes in Yemen – despite ample evidence to the contrary.
In the latest example, last week, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced that it was withdrawing staff from six hospitals in northern Yemen "in the absence of credible assurances" that the Saudi-led coalition would refrain from bombing medical facilities. MSF's announcement came after an airstrike on a MSF-supported hospital in Hajjah province killed 14 people including an MSF staff member on August 15. It was the fourth time in 12 months that MSF facilities in Yemen had been hit.