Last October, hundreds were present at a community hall in Yemen’s capital, for a funeral. But two airstrikes killed more than 140 people in attendance.
The strikes, led by the Saudi-led coalition, were condemned by the UN, who said it breached international humanitarian law (IHL).
The UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote to trade secretary Liam Fox that he was aware a decision had been deferred on four export licence applications to Saudi’s air force.
Johnson pressed Fox to continue exports of weapons to Saudi Arabia, following the funeral.
In a letter obtained by the Guardian, Johnson wrote on 8 November:
I assess that the 'clear risk' threshold for refusal… has not yet been reached.
Fox wrote a letter back to say he agreed that the UK should “continue, for the present, to assess export licences for Saudi Arabia on a case-by-case basis”.
In a report published in the Same months as Johnson wrote his letter, Johnson and colleagues acknowledged that:
- Saudi Arabia isn’t best placed to investigate reports of international IHL, and without credible investigations, “neither the Saudi-led coalition nor the Houthis are being held accountable for their actions and it is Yemeni civilians who bear the consequences”.
- The UK’s arms sales to Saudi can cause conflict with its interests for the region.
The report states:
Our relationships in the [Gulf] region, particularly in terms of arms sales can counterpose our interests– understood as security, stability, jobs and prosperity–against our values of respect for international law.
It also says the situation is making it difficult to continue arms sales:
The weight of evidence of violations of IHL by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia while maintaining the credibility of our arms licensing regime
But, according to Johnson, the risk wasn’t bad enough to stop arms sales.
A spokesman for the UK government said:
The UK is playing a leading role in work to find a political solution to the conflict in Yemen and to address the humanitarian crisis.
We operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and keep our defence exports to Saudi Arabia under careful and continual review.
Given the current legal proceedings we will not be commenting further outside of court at this stage.