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True value of UK arms trade to Saudi Arabia worth over £20 billion since 2015, finds CAAT

BRITAIN sold over £20 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia during its war in Yemen, with the figure almost three times higher than the government’s records, anti-arms campaigners revealed today.

A new report by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) calculated that the sale figures of military equipment and services to the kingdom since 2015 by focusing on the use of open licences.

Open licences allow an unlimited quantity of arms to be exported without the total volume of exports or value of sales being reported.

According to BAE Systems’ annual reports, the country’s biggest arms company has sold £17.5bn worth of equipment and services to the Saudi Arabian military since the war in Yemen began, CAAT analysis found.

CAAT calculated that when added to the published value of bombs and missiles licensed using standard individual export licences, on which figures quoted for the value of export licences are usually based, the estimated total value of arms sales is £20.6bn.

The Department of International Trade (DiT) has reported that the total sum of sales to the kingdom since 2015 is just £6.7bn.

Katie Fallon of CAAT said: “The use of open licences covers up the real extent of the UK arms trade and makes it impossible to know what quantities of weapons are being sold around the world.

“UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles have had a devastating impact in the ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

“The fact that the real total of these sales could be so much higher than previously reported emphasises the central role that the UK government and UK-based companies have played in the war.”

Ms Fallon called for full transparency about what arms have gone to Saudi Arabia and in what quantity.

“So much of the arms industry takes place in secret and that’s how the arms dealers like it,” she said.

“As long as the widespread use of open licences continues, the true nature and volume of the UK arms trade will remain hidden from scrutiny, and therefore from meaningful control.”

More than half of the total of Britain’s arms trade is done via open licences, CAAT has calculated.

A DiT spokesperson said: “The UK takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world.

“We rigorously examine each export licence application on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria.

“We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.”


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