The British government approved £283m of arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the six months after a Saudi airstrike on a funeral that killed scores of people and was criticised by the UN, figures reveal.
The airstrike, on 8 October 2016, hit a funeral hall in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, killing 140 people and injuring hundreds more, in one of the bloodiest attacks in the two-year Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
British arms exports to Saudi Arabia have faced intense scrutiny from MPs and campaigners since the start of the conflict, but the country remains the UK’s most important weapons client.
Following the attack, the UK trade secretary, Liam Fox, delayed signing a set of export licences and his officials prepared for sales to Saudi Arabia to be suspended. However, documents obtained by the Guardian revealed that the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, advised him that the sales should continue, as he judged there was no clear risk that British weapons would be used for serious breaches of international humanitarian law.
In the following six months, the government authorised exports including £263m-worth of combat aircraft components to the Saudi air force, and £4m of bombs and missiles, according to data from Campaign Against Arms Trade.
This is a steep decline from the £1bn of bombs and missiles sent to the country in a single quarter in summer 2015. But campaigners and say the sales remain a matter of concern. (end of excerpt)
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