Liz Truss should resign over illegal Saudi arms sales, say MPs

By Matthew Weaver

The international trade secretary, Liz Truss, is facing calls to resign after admitting the government breached a court order banning the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.

In a landmark ruling in June, the court of appeal ruled UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia were illegal because they could be used in violations of international law in the conflict in Yemen.

Following the ruling, Truss’s predecessor, Liam Fox, pledged to halt Saudi arms sales pending a review. On Monday night, Truss admitted two “inadvertent” breaches of that commitment and apologised to a Commons committee.

On Tuesday, opposition MPs said her apology was insufficient and she should resign for breaking the law.

In a letter to the Commons committee on arms export controls, Truss said a £200 air cooler for an armoured vehicle, used by the Royal Saudi Land Forces (RSLF), was approved for sale in June on the understanding it would not be used in Yemen. At the time, the Foreign Office (FCO) knew the RSLF were involved in Yemen, but did not pass this on to the Department for International Trade, Truss said.

She also admitted a licence was granted to export 260 military radio parts, worth £435,450, to the RSLF, on the approval of the FCO and the Ministry of Defence. The licence was granted four days after Truss was appointed to the role of international trade secretary.

She said: “Given the fact that RSLF troops were deployed in Yemen at the time the licence was issued, this licence should not have been granted.”

She added: “I have apologised to the court unreservedly for the error in granting these two licences.”

Truss also said a licence was granted at the start of July, before she was in post, to sell radar equipment to the UAE navy, which could become involved in the conflict in the Yemen. Truss accepted the licence was “inconsistent” with the government’s pledge and said it was in the process of revoking it.

Alison Thewliss, the SNP MP who chairs the all-parliamentary group on Yemen, called for Truss to resign.

She said: “Under normal circumstances, the secretary of state for international trade would be tendering her resignation for her part in allowing illegal arms sales to Saudi Arabia; the apology from Liz Truss just doesn’t cut it.”

“The UK government has long resisted scrutiny and responsibility for the role of UK-provided weapons in Yemen, and this serious error shows how they are failing to adhere to the letter and spirit of the law. I call on the UK government to review its role and to put more focus on bringing peace to the people of Yemen, who have already suffered over four years of devastating conflict.”

The shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, agreed. He said: “Liz Truss must provide a full account of why her department failed so miserably. If she cannot control her department, obey the law and do what is morally right, she should resign.”

He added: “Yet again it appears there is one law for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.

“The people of the United Kingdom do not want to be complicit in fuelling the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the secretary of state must immediately suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Thousands of people have been killed in this war and it is staggering that the trade secretary thinks an apology will get her off the hook.”

Andrew Smith, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, which brought the court of appeal case against the government, said the problem went beyond Truss.

He said: “The issue is a systematic failing. The government has prioritised arms exports over human rights in Yemen, and that’s extended to the point where it has failed to uphold a court order.”

He added: “Only last week the Saudi regime was in London for the DSEI arms fair, while this terrible bombardment of Yemen is happening. The fact that with that terrible backdrop the government still saw fit to invite the Saudi regime to the world’s biggest arms fair tells you exactly where its priorities lie.

“Clearly something has gone wrong and the government cannot be trusted to uphold its own rules and can’t be trusted to uphold the law, so the only option has to be to end all arms deals to Saudi Arabia.”