I firmly believe that the sale of arms internationally should only take place under a robust licencing framework. This should track the eventual destination of arms to the end user and ensure that weapons do not end up in the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups. In my opinion, the UK Government’s current policy on arms export controls adequately provides this framework.
As the Shadow Foreign Office Minister I raised concerns to ministers about breaches in international law on both sides of the conflict in 2015.
I recently gave a speech at the model United nations at the University of Sheffield, where I called for the UK to adopt an ethical foreign policy along the same lines as that outlined by Robin Cook in 1997.
In the case of Saudi Arabia, it is clear that their military action in Yemen has led to the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, including the targeting of schools and hospitals, and yet the UK continues to arm the Saudis. This is because Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest trading partner in the region. However, if we are to have a truly ethical foreign policy, the need to uphold international law should come before short-term realpolitik.
I believe that, as a matter of urgency, humanitarian and commercial supplies should be allowed into Yemen through the port at Hodeidah, and the UK should suspend arms deals with Saudi Arabia.
There are no easy options in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition have clearly targeted civilians; yet the Houthi rebels, and their proxy supporters, are little better – also engaging in acts of violence against civilians and posing a very real threat to religious and ethnic minorities in the areas under their control.
Yemen urgently needs a peaceful solution and a political settlement after 3 years of conflict.