Advertisement

Jeremy Corbyn risks clash over UK arms sales ahead of trade union speech

The conflict in Yemen has led to widespread famine and a cholera epidemic, with half of those affected by the disease believed to be children: Getty
The conflict in Yemen has led to widespread famine and a cholera epidemic, with half of those affected by the disease believed to be children: Getty

Jeremy Corbyn has risked a clash with trade unions by calling for a reduction in arms sales to regimes with questionable human rights records.

The Labour leader said he was aware of the potential impact on industry and jobs from banning sales to countries like Saudi Arabia, currently engaged in a fierce bombing campaign in Yemen.

But he said the UK Government and Parliament had to take action to ensure innocent people were not being killed by UK made weapons.

Mr Corbyn expressed his views, which risk tension with unions representing workers at firms like BAE Systems, a day ahead of his speech to the TUC conference in Brighton.

He said: “I fully appreciate the size and enormity of the arms industry and the need for working with industry to protect those jobs, in some cases by arms conversion work.

“But above all we have to look at the consequences of a vast amount of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and what’s happening in Yemen, and what’s happened in the past in Bahrain.”

He said people in Yemen “are being terrorised by Saudi bombs dropped from above”, called for the UK’s arms control export licensing committee to be reconvened and demanded more UK pressure on Saudi over the conflict.

Mr Corbyn added: “If we want to prevent arms being made in Britain being used to kill innocent people and abuse human rights then we have to be prepared to do something about it.”

His intervention came amid preparations in London for the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition.

The Independent reported over the summer how the Government has approved licences for arms deals to two-thirds of the countries on its own list of human rights abusers.

It has licensed £283m worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia alone, in the six months after an air strike by the Riyadh-led coalition killed 140 mourners at a funeral in Yemen.