The call comes just a week after British ministers refused to join the US and suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Terina Hine


The Foreign Secretary’s call for a global ceasefire to enable vaccinations is welcome. It is also deeply hypocritical when the UK is a global leader in arms sales, is participating in the world’s major hot war and has thousands of troops stationed in war zones around the world.

There are more than 1,000 British Troops in Afghanistan, engaged in a war that has lasted four times longer than World War One. There are more than 1,300 in the Middle East, including in Iraq and Syria. British special forces are participating in the Saudi-led war on Yemen which created a desperate humanitarian catastrophe before anyone had heard of COVID-19.

Yet, without a hint of contrition, chairing a meeting of the UN Security Council on 17 February, Dominic Raab urged members to agree a resolution for negotiated “vaccine ceasefires” so that healthcare workers can vaccinate the 160 million plus people living in war zones against COVID-19.

This call comes only one week after British ministers refused to join the US and suspend its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Raab said, “Don’t judge me by what I say on the radio, look at what we’re doing.” Well, let us do just that.

In Raab’s statement he claims “we have a moral duty to act” and specifically mentions the war in Yemen as a conflict where a vaccine ceasefire is needed.

He is right – we do have a moral duty. But that duty extends beyond a vaccination ceasefire. If Raab was to show moral responsibility he would stop the UK facilitating the Saudi-led war. He would not only call for a temporary cessation of the war but for its end.

And now is the perfect time: it would be easy to follow the US and end arms sales to the Saudis. Yet after President Biden’s announcement, Middle East Minister, James Cleverly refused to play ball, saying,“The decisions the US takes on matters of arms sales are decisions for the US.” The UK will make its own.

In the last six years the war on Yemen has killed over 233,000 people, 20 million are suffering from famine, at least 50% of children are suffering from chronic malnutrition and the country’s infrastructure has been largely destroyed – with half of Yemen’s health facilities unable to function. COVID-19 is obviously devastating, but this damage was there already, caused by the war. A war which the UK has aided and abetted.

Since 2015, the UK has sold £6.8m worth of arms to the Saudis. Since the ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia was lifted last year the UK has licensed £1.4bn worth of sales – most of them for bombs and missiles.

Now the US has ceased its support for the war, the UK has the honour of being its primary Western backer.

And it is not just arms sales. The British train, advise and provide logistical backing to the Saudi forces conducting the war. There are thousands of British personnel (some military, some private operators working for BAE systems) in Saudi Arabia assisting with the war effort. Without their help the Saudis would be unable to refit their jets or carry out repairs, and it is the British who train the Saudi pilots.

The British military and UK arms manufacturers are so deeply embedded in the Saudi war effort that if Britain withdrew its support the bombing would cease in less than two weeks. It is with British help that the planes keep flying, the bombs keep dropping and the war keeps going.

If Mr Raab and the rest of the UK government took any moral responsibility they would stop the UK’s complicity in the devastation of Yemen; they would bring our troops home from Afghanistan and the Middle East; and they would invest in productive manufacturing rather than the destructive arms industry.

So yes Mr Raab, we will judge you on what you do. But we won’t hold our breath.

Which is why we are calling on everyone who wishes to see an end to the terrible war in Yemen to lobby their MPs in support of a motion against arms sales and to sign a letter to the Prime Minister demanding an end to British collusion.

17 Feb 2021

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