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Arming the Saudi regime should not be legal

Campaign Against Arms Trade will continue to oppose the arms trade in the courts and in the streets, writes JOE LO

LAST Monday morning, Lord Chief Justice Burnett and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave handed down their judgement, ruling that the government’s decision to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen is “lawful.”

The reaction of those of us in the court, and those outside with “Stop Arming Saudi” banners, was one of disappointment but also of determination.

In the days since, messages of support and of anger from all around the world have flooded in. Our sense of determination has only grown.

We, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), are already pursuing an appeal and will fight this dangerous verdict every step of the way.

In this, we know we have the support of the British public. Opinion polling shows that 62 per cent oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia and 66 per cent have an unfavourable view of the Saudi regime.

In contrast, just 11 per cent agree with the government that arms sales to the Saudis are acceptable and just 14 per cent have a favourable view of Saudi Arabia.

In Parliament too, support for our campaign is widespread, as every party with MPs opposes arms exports to Saudi Arabia except the Conservatives and the DUP (although individual DUP MPs have opposed the exports).

So when International Trade secretary Liam Fox stepped up to defend the court’s decision in Parliament on Monday, he was faced with a critical crowd.

To start off, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner argued that the indiscriminate use of air strikes, the destruction of a country’s means of food production and the targeting of civilians are all classed as war crimes.

He then pointed out that the civil servant at the head of the government’s own arms export control body recommended that arms sales to Saudi Arabia be suspended.

The SNP’s Alison Thewlis followed, highlighting that despite the cholera crisis engulfing the country, Yemenis are scared to go and stay in Abs cholera treatment centre as it was bombed in August 2016 by the Saudi-led coalition, killing 19 people, and they are scared it will be attacked again.

“How many hospitals protected by international humanitarian law will the Secretary of State allow be hit by Saudi Arabia before he stops selling it bombs?” she asked.

Finally, after Plaid Cymru and Lib Dem MPs took their turns to lambaste Fox, Labour’s Andy Slaughter asked why the government is continuing to promote arms sales to a country where 157 people, including children, were executed last year and where four young men remain at imminent risk of execution by crucifixion.

Fox replied that the government had raised its human rights reservations with the Saudis. However, almost as he spoke news came out from Saudi Arabia. Six more people had been executed that very day.

The overwhelming evidence of Saudi brutality may even be starting to melt the government’s resolve if anonymous sources quoted by Rachel Sylvester in The Times are to be believed.

According to her column: “A growing number of senior Conservatives and Foreign Office staff are wondering whether the UK has been naive in its relationship with the kingdom.”

Tories such as Ruth Davidson, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson have all criticised Saudi Arabia in the past, although Johnson has continued to cosy up to them regardless, and many more must privately recognise the immorality of arms sales to the regime.

Any softening of the government’s position will be fought tooth-and-nail by the arms industry’s well-resourced and well-connected lobbyists.

If Fox’s conscience ever kicks in, who better to bring him round than Oliver Waghorn, the man who was his special adviser until Fox resigned in disgrace in 2011, and is now BAE Systems’s “head of government relations” (lobbyist-in-chief)?

And in a party which still reveres Margaret Thatcher, what better influencer could there be than Charles Powell, who was Thatcher’s parliamentary secretary and is now a BAE Systems adviser?

CAAT will not just be fighting the arms trade in the courts and Parliament but also on the streets, peacefully disrupting the arms dealers that ply their terrible trade. 

In September, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) is coming to London’s Excel Centre and we will be joining activists from across the country at daily protests.

The DSEI arms fair is organised by the Department for International Trade’s arms export promotion branch (the Defence and Security Organisation) which has so far declined to release the guest list for 2017. However, the last time DSEI took place in 2015, the militaries of 61 nations were invited.

Of these, 14 (including Saudi Arabia) were on the Democracy Index’s list of authoritarian regimes; four (including Saudi Arabia) were identified by the British government as having wide-ranging human rights concerns and six were currently at war.

We expect a similar guest list at this year’s fair. The enforcers of brutal and destructive regimes will be ferried around London by British government officials.

They will drink champagne at luxury receptions and spend their citizens’ taxes on weapons bought to repress them and possibly to attack their neighbours.

We will be there to show those living under these regimes that resistance is global and that arms fairs can be shut down.

We hope Morning Star readers will join us.

  • Joe Lo is a researcher for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT on Twitter on @CAATuk.


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