Germany refuses to bow to UK pressure to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Samuel Osborne

Germany has refused to bow to pressure from Britain to start selling arms to Saudi Arabia again.

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, had written to Berlin to ask the government to soften its stance, saying it is “imperative” that it exempt big defence projects from its arms sales halt to Saudi Arabia or face damage to its commercial credibility.

But Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas said the government was sticking to its weapons exports freeze.

“We are not delivering any weapons to Saudi Arabia at the moment and we will make future decisions depending on how the Yemen conflict develops and whether what has been agreed in the peace talks in Stockholm is being implemented,” Mr Maas said after meeting Mr Hunt in Berlin.

Germany banned arms sales to Saudi Arabia over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and human rights concerns about the conflict in Yemen, where the Saudi-backed government is fighting the Iran-backed Houthi movement.

In separate remarks, German finance minister Olaf Scholz declined to say if the German government would extend the freeze beyond 9 March.

“We review it regularly and then make new decisions on that basis,” he said.

In his letter to Mr Maas this month, first reported by Der Spiegel, Mr Hunt said he had “grave concerns” about the effect Germany’s arms freeze was “having on the supply chains of UK and European defence industry and may ultimately have on Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments”.

Berlin’s decision was delaying deliveries of Eurofighter Typhoon, Tornado and Hawk warplanes, and could result in contractual penalties for 500 companies in the supply chain of Britain’s BAE Systems, he said.

Mr Hunt also said he saw a risk that Saudi Arabia would turn to Russian or Chinese supplies in future.

Referring to the conflict in Yemen, Mr Hunt said he was deeply concerned the freeze would dent the ability to influence key figures in coming months in the cause of peace.

Berlin and London have stressed in recent months that cooperation on defence and security must remain a pillar of Anglo-German cooperation even after Brexit at the end of March.

Andrew Smith from the Campaign Against Arms Trade told The Independent: “It is totally inappropriate for Jeremy Hunt to act as a lobbyist for BAE Systems and the Saudi dictatorship. The German government is absolutely right to have stood up to his pressure and demands.

“The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the worst in the world. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in this brutal and devastating war, and yet the main goal for Downing Street and the foreign secretary has been to maximise profits for arms companies. That tells us everything we need to know about their priorities.

“Germany should never have been arming the Saudi regime in the first place, but by sticking to the policy it has set a vital precedent. If Jeremy Hunt, Theresa May and their colleagues want to do the right thing for the people of Yemen then they must follow Germany’s lead and end the arms sales.”

The Independent has contacted the Foreign Office for comment.