LONDON — Britain has lifted a yearlong ban on the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, the government announced July 7.
Weapon sales to Saudi Arabia were banned in June 2019 after a U.K. Court of Appeal ruled that the government may have contravened international humanitarian law by approving weapon sales to the Saudis that might have been used in the civil war in Yemen.
Britain is one of the largest exporters of defense 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.
Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of Middle Eastern nations in a protracted and bloody war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels trying to seize Yemen.
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 defense 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 20 June last year,” Truss told Parliament. “It may take some months to clear this backlog.”
In a statement, BAE said: “We note that the UK Government has implemented a revised methodology regarding licences for military exports. We continue to provide defense equipment, training and support under government to government agreements between the UK and Saudi Arabia, subject to UK Government approval and oversight. We work closely with the Department for International Trade to ensure our continued compliance with all relevant export control laws and regulations.”