Britain Lifts Ban on Saudi Weapons Exports

Foreign Affairs

London. An year long embargo on export military equipment to Saudi Arabia by Britain has been lifted, the government announced on July 7. The sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia were banned in June 2019 after a UK Court of Appeal ruled that the government may have contravened international humanitarian law by approving weapons sales to the Saudis that might have been used in the civil war in Yemen.

Britain is one of the largest exporters of defence equipment in the world, largely thanks to Saudi Arabia’s purchase over more than 30 years of Tornado and Typhoon combat jets as well as Hawk jet trainers. Raytheon Paveway IV precision-guided bombs, partly built in the U.K., are also among the list of recent significant sales to Saudi Arabia.

In an action brought by anti-arms trade campaigners, the court ruling forced the British government to reassess whether previous export licenses had been issued on the correct legal basis, given alleged violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi military, specifically reported airstrikes that hit civilian targets.

“The incidents, which have been assessed to be possible violations of international humanitarian law, occurred at different times, in different circumstances and for different reasons,” said International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.

“In retaking these decisions, I have taken into account the full range of information available to the government. In the light of all that information and analysis, I have concluded that, notwithstanding the isolated incidents, which have been factored into the analysis as historic violations of international humanitarian law, Saudi Arabia has a genuine intent and the capacity to comply with international humanitarian law,” she added. “On that basis, I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

Truss said exports will resume after the government completes the court-ordered review of defence export licences to the Middle East’s largest buyer of military equipment. The ban only halted new approvals for weapons sales. Work on existing deals, like BAE System’s deals to support Typhoon and Tornado jets, have continued unaffected.

The British 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 June 20 last year,” Truss told Parliament. “It may take some months to clear this backlog.”

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