In Brief

Is Theresa May backing an immediate ceasefire in Yemen?

Labour claims her choice of words is more evidence of the government’s support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign

Theresa May appeared to stop short of calling for an immediate ceasefire in Yemen yesterday despite US demands for a cessation of hostilities in the war-ravaged nation.

When asked during Prime Minister’s Questions if she would press for a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, she said the UK would “back the US call for de-escalation”.

May noted that the UK government proposed a UN statement calling on the parties in Yemen to agree steps towards a ceasefire in March and that was still its position.

However, she said she agreed with Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, who earlier this week said: “A nationwide ceasefire will have an effect on the ground only if it is underpinned by a political deal between the conflict parties.”

Her comments came after Washington issued its strongest statement yet on the Yemeni conflict yesterday, calling for a ceasefire and UN-led peace talks within 30 days.

“The time is now for the cessation of hostilities,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, calling on both sides of the conflict to halt strikes.

His views were echoed by Defence Secretary James Mattis. “We’ve got to move toward a peace effort here,” he told reporters. “And we can’t say we’re going to do it some time in the future. We need to be doing this in the next 30 days.”

Yemen is currently facing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, devastated by more than three years of brutal civil conflict and famine, but it has become known as the “forgotten war”, the UN said earlier this year.

May’s choice of words did not go down well with the opposition. Labour criticised the government for failing to back the immediate ceasefire calls in their entirety and condemned the UK’s support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, The Independent reports.

A spokesperson for leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The [US] Defence Secretary and Secretary of State called for a ceasefire within 30 days and it’s clear from Theresa May’s response that she’s not backing that.”

The prime minister’s decision “goes to highlight the role that the British Government has played in supporting the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and the direct advice to Saudi military by British forces under Government direction”, they added.

The PM’s spokesperson, meanwhile, said that the US position appeared to be in line with the UK’s own “long-standing position” of advocating “de-escalation” of the conflict.

“But he would not say whether ‘de-escalation’ was the same as a ceasefire,” notes the HuffPost.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt later suggested to BBC Newsnight that the UK was hoping for a more durable solution. “This is different to a ceasefire. Ceasefires have to be monitored and they get broken. This is something that we have been discussing with the US and other people for a while,” he said.

“Essentially this is in a way more profound. This is about a deal where the Saudi coalition would agree to stop bombing civilian areas and the Houthis would agree to stop sending missiles into Saudi Arabia. And there you have the potential for a durable peace that could actually potentially go beyond a ceasefire.”

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