The UK is not following the US in suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia for offensive use in the war in Yemen, where the US and UK-backed Saudi-led coalition regularly bombs civilian targets.
“The decisions the US takes on matters of arms sales are decisions for the US,” said James Cleverly, a British minister for the Middle East and North Africa. “The UK takes its own arms export responsibilities very seriously, and we continue to assess all arms export licenses in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”
The UK resumed arms sales to Saudi Arabia that could be used in Yemen in July 2020, after over a year pause due to a court ruling that found Saudi arms sales unlawful. The court said UK ministers had not properly assessed the risk of civilian casualties.
After a review, the UK government said civilian casualties in Saudi airstrikes in Yemen were “isolated incidents” despite the fact that the coalition has bombed civilian targets repeatedly since 2015. After the UK started selling weapons to Riyadh again, Saudi airstrikes pounded residential areas in north Yemen. In one incident, at least 25 people, including children, were killed in a Saudi airstrike on a residential area in the Yemeni city of al-Hazm.
Saudi arms sales are lucrative for the British. According to The Guardian, between 2010 and 2019, Saudi arms sales represented 40 percent of UK weapons exports.
While President Biden said he would end “offensive” support for Riyadh’s war on Yemen and halt “relevant” arms sales, he left open the possibility of military support for the Saudis if it could be framed as defensive. And it is still not clear whether or not the US will continue supporting the blockade of Yemen.