The government lost a legal case last month, when the Court of Appeal found that the UK’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia where operating illegally.
Arms exports are a difficult issue. Many skilled jobs depend not just on armaments, but on IT, electronics, and of course aerospace. Indeed in the Chester area we have an important aerospace cluster that includes some military aerospace sites and operations.
And often civilian use comes from military technology. So I will not oppose the sales of military related equipment as a principle.
But the Saudi Arabia case is different.
The Saudis are fighting a war in Yemen against the unpleasant Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemeni government. So far, no problem. Except that the Saudi bombing is indiscriminate and thousands of civilians have died.
Last summer, with the British Army, I visited UK forces in Cyprus carrying out operations against IS/Daesh forces in Syria. British servicemen and aircrew explained to me the lengths they go to in identifying and verifying the target, but also checking no civilians are likely to be affected. This procedure also included monitoring the situation from a ground control room in the Middle East.
Often a target is identified but they can’t attack it because they weren’t absolutely sure, or because civilians moved into the line of fire. After a bomb is released, every engagement is analysed for its decision making by independent senior officers.
Just as I returned from Cyprus, news came through of a Saudi bomb attack on a school bus, in which fifty civilians, mostly children, were killed. This was not the first such calamity: 150 had been killed when a wedding was bombed. Yet as I had seen from the RAF operations, the technology is there to minimise civilian casualties, it just seems the Saudi air force isn’t using it.
The Saudi Arabian government is currently under scrutiny because they murdered the journalist Jamal Kashoggi, who was critical of their regime. Of course the status of women in Saudi and the treatment of the LGBT community is still unacceptable.
Saudi Arabia is currently locked in a dispute with Iran, who I also have no time for. But surely we don’t always have to take sides in these situations?
Our arms and aerospace sectors are important parts of the economy. I will not support calls for a complete end to all arms sales. But surely now we must stop dealing with Saudi Arabia until the UN has investigated their actions. It is not a country we can trust and our armaments must not be allowed to be used on civilians.