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UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia rose by two thirds in 2017


UK military sales to Saudi Arabia increased by two thirds in 2017 from 2016 – an increase of more than £450m, Sky News can reveal.

The real figure could be much higher as the number of so-called “secret” open licences doubled across the 12 months, from 21 to 44.

The UK issued 126 licences relating to military goods in 2017, with a value of £1.129bn – according to Department of International Trade figures.

This is compared to 103 licences relating to military goods in 2016, with a value of £679m.

A Saudi-led coalition is using airstrikes against Yemeni rebels and their allies, who drove a Saudi-backed and internationally recognised government into exile, since 2015.

More than 10,000 people are thought to have died and 22 million people need assistance in what the UN says is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The number of weapons and the amount of money the UK has accrued from military sales to the kingdom will be higher than the standard licences state.

Open licences, known as OIELs, have been described as “secretive” by campaign groups because they allow an uncapped number of items to be sent to another country for five years.

There is currently no obligation on the government to publish the total value of the licence when it ends.

In 2017, the number of open licences more than doubled – from 21 in 2016 to 44 the following year.

Sky News analysis previously found that the number of open licences for weapons given to Saudi Arabia has increased considerably since Theresa May became prime minister.

The type of goods being sold in 2017 include components for sniper rifles, bombs, and combat naval vessels.

The news comes as trade secretary Liam Fox joined other prominent figures pulling out of an upcoming investment conference, which has been dubbed Davos in the Desert, in Saudi Arabia.

Their withdraws were made after Turkish officials claim a prominent Saudi critic, journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered in kingdom’s Istanbul consulate where the writer was last seen entering two weeks ago.

Saudi Arabia deny any wrong doing.

Scrutiny over Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war continues, with the United Nations warning that a fresh military offensive in the country will have an “incalculable human cost”.

A Department of Trade spokesperson said: “The government takes its export responsibilities very seriously operating one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.

“All export license applications are considered on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated criteria, based on the most up-to-date information and analysis available, including reports from non-government organisations and our overseas network.

“Individually, the defence sector supports 7,500 SMEs in its UK supply chain alone, with export orders worth £8.7bn over the last five years helping to strengthen the UK’s security relationships with key allies.”

Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, an organisation which works to abolish the international arms trade, said: “The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is the worst in the world. UK-made fighter jets and bombs have played a central role in the destruction.

“Thousands of people have been killed and vital infrastructure has been destroyed all across Yemen. But that hasn’t stopped the arms sales.

“These figures reveal that as the situation has got worse the arms sales have increased.

“The humanitarian disaster that has been inflicted on Yemen is a man-made one, and the UK government is complicit. It’s time for the UK government to end the arms sales and end its uncritical support for the Saudi dictatorship.”

(c) Sky News 2018: UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia rose by two thirds in 2017