2010-2019 | Arms exports | Backing dictatorships

‘No Saudi atrocity too much’ to halt UK’s lucrative arms exports

Protester in central London – March 2018.
Alisdare Hickson – CC License – via Flickr.

[ 11 September 2018 ]

On 11 September 2018, Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, reminded parliament of British collusion with Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign against Yemen which, since it had started in 2015, had created what the United Nations described as ‘the world’s worst humitarian crisis.’ She added:

‘It seems as though no Saudi atrocity is too much and no Saudi behaviour cannot be excused so that the government’s inaction at the United Nations and its lucrative trade in arms can be allowed to continue.’1

In the previous month alone, the United Nations estimated that there had been 981 civilian casualties in Yemen as a result of the war, of whom over 300 were children. Thornberry urged the government to press for an immediate investigation by the United Nations into allegations of war crimes and in the meantime to suspend all British arms exports, including advanced Typhoon combat aircraft and associated weapons systems, to Saudi Arabia. There were numerous reports of the Royal Saudi Air Force, targeting civilian infrastructure including residential districts, mosques and schools and Human Rights Watch had already linked UK licensed laser-guided Paveway IV bombs to several such attacks. Even one prominent Conservative MP, Andrew Mitchell, who had previously served as international development secretary, spoke out against the continued arms sales and diplomatic support the UK was giving to Saudi Arabia, noting that it was ‘hard to find a more eloquent and effective recruiting sergeant for those who wish to do us ill than the policy that is being pursued by our government.’2


  1. Emily Thornberry cited in Sam Tobin, “Government under fire over Saudi arms sales,” the Morning Star, 12 September 2018, p. 5.
  2.  Sam Tobin, “Government under fire over Saudi arms sales,” the Morning Star, 12 September 2018, p. 5 at url https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/thornberry-says-government-%E2%80%98making-excuses%E2%80%99-yemen-keep-arms-trade-alive Jamie Doward, ‘UK “hides extent of arms sales to Saudi Arabia,”‘ The Guardian, 23 June 2018 at url https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/23/uk-hides-arms-trade-saudi-arabia–yemen and Louisa Brooke-Holland, ‘UK Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia: Q&A,’ House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, Number 08425, 11 July 2019.

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