In Brief

Theresa May to raise Yemen concerns during Saudi trip

But criticism over British arms deals with Saudi Arabia overshadow PM’s visit

Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to raise concerns about the Saudi Arabia-led war in Yemen during her visit to the Middle East, amid criticism back home about Britain’s lucrative arms trade in the region.

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative former international development secretary, said last week that the UK was “dangerously complicit” in a Saudi policy that was “directly promoting a famine and the collective punishment of an entire population”.

Since early 2015, Saudi Arabia has been leading a military intervention against the Houthi insurgency in Yemen and has been accused of numerous human rights abuses, including targeting civilians. 

“We’re very concerned about the humanitarian situation in the Yemen,” May said before the trip. “The United Kingdom is now, I think, the third-biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid to Yemen.”

But according to The Independent, “the UK has made ten times more in arms sales to Saudi Arabia than it’s given in aid to Yemen”. 

Amnesty International claims that the US, UK, France, Spain, Canada and Turkey sold a total of about £4.44bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia between 2015 and 2016. In 2015, the UK government approved global arms licences totalling more than £7.7bn, reports the BBC, and most of those weapons were sent to the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia by far the UK’s most valuable client.

May’s trip is an attempt to bolster links with the region post-Brexit, says Sky News.

The PM has said that it is in the UK’s interest to work with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and has praised the latter for “changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, for example women being allowed to drive”.

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