UK to resume Saudi arms sales after humanitarian review

The UK will resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite concerns they could be used against civilians in Yemen.

An internal government review into the use of weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen has concluded that breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL) were just "isolated incidents".

The move was quietly announced in a written statement to parliament by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade said it was a "morally bankrupt" move and accused the government of "rank hypocrisy" after it banned 20 senior Saudi officials from entering the UK and froze their assets in connection with the 2018 killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The government will now begin the process of clearing the backlog of licence applications for Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that has built up since 20 June last year.

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 the bombing of Yemen started in 2015.

Labour said the government's "mixed messages...undermined the UK's claim to be human rights defenders".

The UK's support for the Saudi-led international coalition in Yemen, which is backing the country's government in its battle against a long-running Houthi insurgency, has proved highly controversial.

The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing.

Thousands of people, including many civilians, have been killed in the five-year conflict, while millions have been made homeless or left starving.

The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of international humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places.

The UN has verified the deaths of at least 7,700 civilians since 2015 and said 60% of these were due to bombing raids by the Saudi-led coalition, whose other members include the United Arab Emirates.

Monitoring groups believe the toll is far higher with the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project identifying 12,000 civilians killed in direct attacks.