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Johnson was ‘very casual and jokey’ on discussions on arms to Saudi Arabia, former Foreign Office lawyer reveals

by our parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

BORIS JOHNSON was “very casual and jokey” during discussions about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a former Foreign Office lawyer revealed today.

Molly Mulready, who worked at the department between 2014 and 2019, told investigative journalism website Declassified UK that the then foreign secretary “would joke around and waste everybody’s time” when the issue was considered.

Up to 8,750 civilians are estimated to have been killed by Saudi air strikes in neighbouring Yemen since the kingdom and its allies began to target Houthi rebels there in 2015 as part of a proxy war with regional rival Iran.

About 130,000 people have thought to have died so far in the conflict, which, according to the United Nations, has caused the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with 20 million suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

Ms Mulready was responsible for giving legal advice to ministers on arms exports to the Middle East.

Mr Johnson, who became Prime Minister in July 2019, was foreign secretary under Theresa May between 2016 and 2018 before he resigned in protest against her Brexit deal. 

Ms Mulready said: “We would go in to brief [Mr Johnson] about Yemen and he would joke around and waste everybody’s time and it was a bit mind blowing because you’re discussing civilian casualties, you’re discussing the fact that innocent people have died and that British-supplied bombs have played a part in that.”

When Campaign Against Arms Trade took legal action against the government over weapons sales to the Saudis in 2017, Ms Mulready was tasked with defending ministers — a role she is now “ashamed” to have taken on. 

“There have been tens of thousands of civilians killed in the bombing and there are millions of people who are food insecure. There are children in Yemen who are starving to death,” she said.

“The Saudis seem to have absolutely no compassion whatsoever.”

Britain temporarily halted arms sales to Riyadh that could be used in Yemen in 2019 after the Court of Appeal concluded that ministers had not properly assessed the risk of civilian casualties from indiscriminate air strikes, but sales resumed in the summer of last year.

Ms Mulready said that she believed the ongoing trade to violate the government’s own licencing laws and contributed to Saudi war crimes.

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