Yemen Peace Process

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:34 pm on 23rd May 2019.

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Photo of Fabian Hamilton Fabian Hamilton Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (Defence) 1:34 pm, 23rd May 2019

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, and I hope I have not suggested for one minute that there is a simple solution to this conflict and it is simply a matter of stopping UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the whole thing stops, although I would recommend that, if the hon. Gentleman has not seen it, he watches that “Dispatches” documentary because there is certainly a hint in it—although I do not necessarily agree with it. Of course this is a complex situation, but, as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield hinted, there may come a time when we all call for the withdrawal of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia as a way of trying to stop the conflict escalating further or of trying to bring about a peace deal. But Labour thinks those arms sales should stop immediately.

We think that in order to make peace in Yemen possible we must end those arms exports to Saudi Arabia immediately. Following in the footsteps of our European allies—Germany, Spain, Italy and Denmark—we think that that will give the Stockholm agreement and the United Nations the best chances of achieving peace, although I do accept that there are the complexities that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight legitimately raised in his intervention. We on this side of the House have consistently called for that immediate cessation of arms sales and of the conflict—of course we all want to see that. We feel that, as other Members have mentioned this afternoon, we are complicit unless we act more neutrally and diplomatically in the conflict in Yemen.

We have also called for an independent UN-led investigation into allegations of war crimes in this terrible conflict. An open letter to the Government sent a few weeks ago by colleagues of mine in the shadow Cabinet and other opposition parties states that

“it is morally reprehensible that the UK government is not only not considering changing its policy” on arms sales

“but is actively lobbying other foreign governments, as it did with Germany, to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia.”

I also want to briefly refer to the House of Lords International Relations Committee recent report that stated that the UK was

“narrowly on the wrong side” of the law by allowing arms exports to Saudi Arabia for the war in Yemen. The report noted that it was concerned that the Saudi-led coalition’s misuse of weaponry bought from the UK has been deliberately or accidentally causing civilian casualties. The report stated:

“Relying on assurances by Saudi Arabia and Saudi-led review processes is not an adequate way of implementing the obligations for a risk-based assessment set out in the Arms Trade Treaty.”

My colleague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, claimed in The Guardian earlier this year that as many as 40% of the soldiers in the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebel army were children, and the United Nations has documented 1,702 cases of child recruitment for which it has clear evidence. As we have heard, Saudi forces have bombed vital infrastructure and innocent civilians, and starvation has been used as a weapon of war through the blockading of ports. A UN human rights investigation in August 2018 noted that Saudi coalition airstrikes might constitute war crimes. I have posed a number of questions to add to the list that the Minister already has, and I will end my remarks here to allow him the chance to answer the questions that have been put to him this afternoon.