Labour Demands UK Government Resume Scrutiny Over Arms Sale Contracts

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The United Kingdom’s relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has come under scrutiny as arms continue to be sold to the country amid its intervention in the Yemeni Civil War in 2015.

The UK’s Labour Party has urged the government to re-establish the parliamentary committee on arms export controls (CAEC), and warned that failing to do so may have a “huge impact on conflicts around the globe”.

In a letter to Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg on Monday, Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament Fabian Hamilton identified the CAEC had not met for the 6 months since the general election in 2019.

He drew comparisons to a 9-month period in 2015 where the committee failed to convene, resulting in a lack of criticism regarding a decision to maintain weapons sales to Saudi Arabia amid the military campaign in Yemen, which was later determined as unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

The Leeds MP said that the “existing standing orders” may require amendent in order to “rectify the deficiency in establishing permanent oversight over the executive in an area vital to human rights”.

“Our weapons are our responsibility and the decisions where we sell them really must be allowed to be thoroughly scrutinised by MPs”, Hamilton wrote.

​He asked specifically: when the government plans to e-constitute the CAEC and determine its members, whether the body should become a select committee, if the government will accept recommendations the CAEC makes on future arms sales licences, and what arrangements the government has to align with European Union arms control as part of any trade negotiations.

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy responded to the letter with a tweet supporting the demand to reconvene the CAEC.

“Our weapons are responsible. We must not be kept in the dark any longer”, she said.

The CAEC job is to oversee and review government decisions to grant licenses involving the sale of British weapons. The letter from the opposition comes amid reports that licenses have continued to operate for Saudi Arabia, despite their unlawful ruling by the Court of Appeal.

In 2019, 3 court of appeal judges said that ministers – including then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – agreed to the sale of British arms to Saudi Arabia in 2016 without any proper assessment on their civilian impact.

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticised for its involvement in the war in Yemen. The United Nations has described the conflict as the “worst humanitarian crisis” in the world.

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