Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia and Israel

Thank you for contacting me about arms exports to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

I share your distress regarding the plight of the people of Gaza and the people of Yemen, but I do not believe that imposing a blanket arms embargo would resolve the situation.

The Government takes its defence export responsibilities extremely seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications, including those for Saudi Arabia and Israel are rigorously assessed on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.

These strict criteria take account of all prevailing circumstances at the time of application and includes human rights and international humanitarian law considerations. The Government does not issue export licences where there is a clear risk that the goods might be used for internal repression, in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law, or where the export would provoke or prolong conflict.

I am encouraged by the strides made over recent weeks during and following the Stockholm peace talks in December.  In my view, the Stockholm Agreements are the best chance of securing long term peace in Yemen. I was pleased to see that the UN Security Council unanimously adopted the UK-drafted resolution 2452 which established a special mission to support implementation of the ceasefire agreement reached in Stockholm.

The Court of Appeal has overturned a High Court judgment that arms export licences granted to Saudi Arabia were not unlawful, a decision which the Government does not agree with and will seek to appeal. While the Government considers the implications of this judgment, no new licences for arms exports will be granted to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that might be used in the conflict in Yemen. It is important to note the judgment was not about whether the Government has made the right or wrong decisions about granting exports licences, but about the process used to reach decisions.

There is a pressing need for all parties to reach a wider agreement that addresses the underlying causes of conflict in Gaza and to take the necessary steps to ensure Gaza’s reconstruction and economic recovery. Any agreement should ensure that Hamas and other militant groups permanently end rocket and other attacks against Israel, that the Palestinian Authority resumes control of Gaza and restores effective governance, and that Israel lifts its restrictions to ease the suffering of ordinary Palestinians.

I am confident that by adhering to the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, the Government will continue to ensure that UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia and Israel are not used for internal repression, violating international humanitarian law, or for provoking or prolonging conflict.

I welcome the work of the Committees on Arms Exports Controls – the Defence, Foreign Affairs, International Development, and International Trade Committees – in scrutinising strategic export controls. These Committees recently released a report on UK arms exports in which they stated that they “welcome the fact that the Government publishes a lot of licensing information”.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Craig Whittaker MP

July 2019