“Labour will stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen and work to end the war there, not actively support it as the Conservative government has done,” Corbyn said in a speech setting out his party’s foreign policy objectives before the December 12 polls.
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“Labour’s new internationalism means we will create a peace and conflict-prevention fund and invest an extra 400 million pounds [$513m] to expand our diplomatic capacity and increase oversight of arms exports to ensure we’re not fuelling conflicts, as in Yemen and in Israel and the Palestinian territories,” he said in the speech in the northern English city of York.
The UK’s Conservative-led government in June said it would not grant any new licences for weapons exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen after a court ruled that such sales were unlawful.
The decision by the Court of Appeal followed a challenge by the Campaign Against Arms Trade that accused the government of licensing arms sales despite a clear risk their use could breach international humanitarian law.
Court order breached
However, in September, the UK’s international trade secretary admitted that the country had breached for a third time the court order in question, prompting opposition calls for her resignation.
Liz Truss told parliament that officials had discovered a further violation, 10 days after she was forced to write to the Court of Appeal admitting two other export licences had been unlawfully granted.
The UK’s arms sales have significantly bolstered the Saudi-led coalition’s capability to carry out air attacks in Yemen, in the grip of a devastating conflict pitting the Saudi-UAE-backed internationally recognised government against the Houthis.
The brutal war has killed tens of thousands of people and forced millions from their homes, causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.
After joining the conflict in Yemen in 2015, Saudi Arabia has become the world’s biggest weapons importer. In 2018, its military spending stood at nearly $70bn, which corresponded to approximately 9 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).
The United States is by far the largest arms supplier for the kingdom, making about 70 percent of the sales between 2014 and 2018. The UK was the second-largest in the same period, accounting for about 10 percent of total Saudi arms purchases.