House of Commons Library

UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia: Q&A

Published Wednesday, July 10, 2019

This short Commons Library briefing paper examines UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

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The conflict in Yemen has drawn attention to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has been accused of committing violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) during its military operations in Yemen.

The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led Coalition but Saudi armed forces are using UK built and licensed arms in Yemen, including Typhoon aircraft, missiles and bombs.

The Government has resisted pressure from opposition parties and backbench MPs to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia.  Campaign groups actively lobby MPs to make this point.

One group, the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) took the UK government to court to obtain a Judicial Review of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The High Court rejected their claim in 2017. However, in June 2019 the Court of Appeal concluded the Government’s decision-making process for granting export licenses was “irrational” and therefore “unlawful”.

Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, told the Commons the Government will not grant any new licenses for export to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners that might be used in the conflict in Yemen while it considers the implications of the judgement for decision-making. He also said the Government intends to seek permission to appeal. The Government was granted permission to appeal on 9 July 2019.

This briefing paper focuses on UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Commons Library briefing paper An Introduction to UK arms exportsexplains the process by which the Government grants export licenses.

The Library regularly publishes material on the situation in Yemen, most recently in ‘Yemen’s fragile peace process’ (CBP8536, 7 March 2019) and ‘Yemen update: Autumn 2018’ (CBP8433, 2 November 2018). 


Commons Briefing papers CBP-8425

Author: Louisa Brooke-Holland

Topics: Arms control, Defence equipment and procurement, Defence policy, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human rights, International trade

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