‘Citizens’ committee’ votes to ban ‘illegal’ sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia after MPs’ failure to act

Rob Merrick

A “citizens’ committee” has voted to ban the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia after hearing expert evidence they are “illegal” – in protest at MPs’ refusal to investigate the controversy.

The unique inquiry – involving MPs, human rights investigators, former defence chiefs, lawyers and academics – ruled the exports of Paveway bombs must stop “with immediate effect”.

It was staged amid growing anger that the Commons committee to investigate arms sales has refused to hold an inquiry into trade with the Saudis, despite a finding it is causing “significant civilian casualties” in Yemen.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP who set up the citizens’ committee, hailed its verdict and said only “intense political pressure” on civil servants prevented them reaching the same conclusion.

And Dr Anna Stavrianakis, an expert on UK arms export policy at the University of Sussex, said: “The parliamentary system of scrutiny is broken.

“We heard from Brigadier John Deverell, former defence attache to Riyadh, who said no amount of humanitarian aid absolves the UK of complicity in Yemen.”

The witnesses, who included campaigners speaking from Yemen, had told of “routine and systemic attacks on civilians by Saudi Arabia using government-licensed exports of British bombs”.

“They came to the conclusion that exports of the most commonly used bombs used by the Saudi Royal Air Force were illegal,” Mr Russell-Moyle told The Independent.

“The civil servants in the department for international trade would also come to this conclusion if they were not under such intense political pressure to approve.”

Last month, a government employer responsible for arms licensing was heard likening his job to that of Nazi officials following orders.

“I’m doing what I’m told and doing my job, but I’m uncomfortably aware of Adolf Eichmann who said the same thing,” he told visitors at an arms fair in Farnborough.

Mr Russell-Moyle has called for the committee on arms export control (CAEC), drawn from four other select committees – defence, foreign, trade and international development – to be replaced by a new body with an elected chairman.

“It’s an open secret within CAEC that it is broken and has been prevented from holding the government to account,” he said.

The citizens’ committee said the licence for the Paveway bombs, produced by Raytheon UK, allows unlimited transfer to Saudi Arabia without the government, or public, having to be informed.

They were described as “the principle air to surface missile used by Saudi”, with “fragments found in lots of civilian sites”.

The court of appeal will rule by the summer whether the UK government is meeting its own commitment not to supply weapons where there is a clear risk of use in violations of international humanitarian law.

In February, a House of Lords inquiry condemned the government’s refusal to curb arms sales to Riyadh – worth a staggering £4.7bn since the brutal war in Yemen began in 2015 – for being “on the wrong side” of international humanitarian law.