BRITISH arms sales to Saudi Arabia have increased by almost 500 per cent since the country started its devastating bombing campaign against Yemen.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) condemned the British government yesterday for treating the war as a “business opportunity,” with weapons sales to the despotic Gulf state hitting a staggering £4.6 billion since the bombing started in March 2015.
New figures show that Britain sold over £800 million worth of arms in April and May this year.
The arsenal of weapons sold includes a “major increase” in licences for fighter jets and bombs to £1.9bn — a rise of 475 per cent from the £33m worth of such arms Britain approved in the two years leading up to war.
Saudi-led air strikes have killed thousands of civilians and left many more injured. More than seven million people in Yemen are on the brink of famine as a result of the war and the International Committee of the Red Cross warned in September that a million will be suffering from cholera by the end of the year.
Despite this the Saudi regime blocked humanitarian aid from entering the country earlier this week, “temporarily” closing all sea, land and air entry to Yemen.
The UN was due to hold an emergency meeting yesterday to discuss the situation, with spokesman Stephane Dujarric warning that the Saudi-led blockade “has had a tremendously negative impact on a situation that is already catastrophic.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed that there was mounting evidence that British weapons were being used to commit war crimes in Yemen while a UN report in January last year uncovered “widespread and systematic” attacks on civilian targets “in violation of international humanitarian law.”
However, last month then defence secretary Michael Fallon told MPs to stop criticising Saudi Arabia as it was hindering British arms sales and holding up a deal to sell the latest batch of Typhoon fighter jets.
Britain is a centre for the world’s arms trade with the government-sponsored DSEI arms fair being hosted in London earlier this year.
Weapons manufacturers including BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon set up stall to sell arms to a “roll call of the world’s worst despots” including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Turkey along with other repressive regimes.
And it was revealed in July that Britain had licensed arms sales to 20 of the 30 countries on the government’s own human rights watch list.
CAAT is appealing against a July court decision which ruled that the British government could continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia despite a range of international organisations, including the European Parliament and many humanitarian NGOs, condemning the ongoing air strikes against Yemen as unlawful.
CAAT spokesman Tom Barns told the Star the increase was “staggering.”
He said: “The United Nations has accused Saudi-led forces of killing hundreds of children and destroying schools and hospitals, yet the UK government seems to see the war as a business opportunity.
“Not only are these sales fuelling the ongoing conflict, they are also sending a message of political support to the brutal Saudi regime.”
He said the stats and recent UN blacklisting of the Saudis for killing and maiming children in Yemen “show that our legal challenge to these arms sales is more important than ever.
“There is no way we can stand by while the UK government prioritises arms companies’ profits over human lives.”