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MP petitions on arms sales to the Saudis

A petition from Cambridge University Oxfam Society calling for the government to suspend arms sales to the Saudi coalition carrying out attacks in Yemen has been presented to the House of Commons by the city’s Labour MP, Daniel Zeichner.

The petition states: “The petition of residents of the United Kingdom declares that the government’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia is unacceptable, as there is substantial evidence that these arms are being used to kill innocent civilians in Yemen.

“This is in direct breach of the UK arms export policy, which states that the licences cannot be granted if there is a ‘clear risk’ the arms might be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

Mr Zeichner said: “I really hope that the government is prepared to listen to concerned people in Cambridge and across the country who are outraged and devastated by what is happening in Yemen. This is in direct breach of the UK arms export policy, which states that the licences cannot be granted if there is a 'clear risk' the arms might be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

The war in Yemen began in early 2015. The UK is the second-largest exporter of arms to Saudi Arabia after the US, approving £3.3billion in military sales to the kingdom between April 2015 and September 2016. Total UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia since 2015 are estimated at £4.7billion. This year the UN has stated that 13 million people face starvation. The government's response so far has been to ramp up aid, though the aid contribution dwarfs the revenues from arms sales: Government data suggests that the "total UK bilateral support" to Yemen is now "£570million since 2015". This is 12 per cent of the total arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the same time frame.

Cambridge University Oxfam Society says: “We have been campaigning to raise awareness about the UK government's role in the civil war in Yemen for several months now. Above all, we are concerned with our government selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite mounting evidence that they could be used to kill innocent civilians. When asking people in Cambridge to sign our petition, we found that many shared our concerns. Still, there are many people that don't know about the ongoing civil war in Yemen, as it continues to be massively underreported. At a panel discussion that our society hosted in March earlier this year, BBC Correspondent Nawal Al-Maghafi explained that it is extremely difficult to get foreign journalists into the country. She described her own experiences in Yemen, where she found that one pot of powdered milk can cost up to US $40. Essentially, the Saudi coalition's blockade has caused huge shortages of food, water and medicine which has contributed to famine and death. Our government's implicit involvement in this conflict through arms deals is unacceptable. Together with everyone who signed our petition, we urge our politicians to stop selling British arms to Saudi Arabia."

When asked to deny the role UK-manufactured arms may be playing in the war in Yemen, a UK government spokesman told the Cambridge Independent: “We operate one of the most robust export control regimes in the world and keep our defence exports to Saudi Arabia under careful and continual review.

“The UK is playing a leading role in responding to the crisis in Yemen both through its UK aid programmes and its diplomatic influence, including by meeting the immediate food needs of four million Yemenis.”

Alex Mayer, MEP for the East of England, told the Cambridge Independent: "Daniel is absolutely right to highlight this issue that the Cambridge Oxfam society are working hard on.

“I have voted for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia in the European Parliament three times but shockingly Tory MEPs have voted against this and in support of the Saudi regime on each occasion.

“Germany and other EU countries have said they will stop granting export licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia - it is high time the UK followed suit.

“I hope this petition will ensure the British government does the right thing as the bloodshed, disease and famine in Yemen cannot be allowed to continue."

Oil imported from Saudi Arabia last year amounted to around 3 per cent of total UK oil imports.

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