Britain must end arms sales to Saudi Arabia while the country is accused of the large-scale slaughter of civilians in Yemen’s civil war, Theresa May is urged today.
An overwhelming majority of the public believes it is wrong for Britain to supply billions of pounds of weapons to the kingdom, an exclusive poll for The Independent has found.
Most people also want the Government to release a suppressed report into Saudi Arabia’s funding of Islamist extremism in Britain, even if it damages relations with the key ally.
The results lay bare the public’s deep unease about Britain’s close relationship with an autocracy embroiled in a devastating war in neighbouring Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition has been accused by the UN and other observers of bombing hospitals, schools and wedding parties, as it seeks to defeat Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
The United Nations has declared the country a “humanitarian catastrophe”, with sanitation systems destroyed and at least 300,000 people infected with cholera. The opposition to arms sales appears to extend into the Government, with key Tories thought to be arguing privately for weapons sales to be curbed.
Since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015, the UK has licensed £3.3bn worth of arms, including £1.1bn worth of ML4 licences, which relate to bombs, missiles, and other explosives.
Now the poll, by BMG Research, has found only 18 per cent of people support those sales “while the Middle Eastern state is engaged in Yemen’s civil war” – with 58 per cent against. Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat frontbench MP, said: “This just shows how fast the Conservatives are moving away from public opinion. “Instead of giving the Saudis a stern talking to, ministers are flogging them arms.
“They are desperate for shady Middle Eastern trade deals because they are hell-bent on taking us out of the world’s most lucrative single market, in Europe, with nations who share our values.”
Last week, the High Court ruled the Government is not breaking the law by continuing to sign off the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. However, the ruling appeared to be based on a narrow legal point about whether ministers had followed proper procedures and acted rationally in assessing the risks The judges concluded that there was “a substantial body of evidence suggesting that the [Saudi-led] coalition committed serious breaches of international humanitarian law in the course of its engagement in the Yemen conflict”. Activists from Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) had brought a legal challenge against the department in charge of arms control and will now appeal.
A day later the Home Secretary announced the Government will not release its report into Saudi Arabian and other foreign funding for Islamist extremism in Britain.
Amber Rudd said the report, commissioned by former Prime Minister David Cameron, must be held back on “national security” grounds. But The Independent poll finds that 64 per cent of the public wants the report to be made “publicly available in full”, with only 11 per cent backing its suppression. Mr Brake added: “Liberal Democrats forced the Conservatives to commission a report into Saudi funding of extremism, so where is the full report?
“It is totally hypocritical of ministers to condemn terrorism if they won’t also tackle the causes of terrorism. The public sees that, but scandalously the Conservatives don’t want to offend the world’s largest funder of Islamic fundamentalism.”