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UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful, declares Court of Appeal

Protest and celebration outside the Royal Courts of Justice

UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful, declares Court of Appeal

In a major development, the Court of Appeal has ruled that UK ministers broke the law in licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

The Court found that the UK government had failed to properly assess whether there have been breaches of International Humanitarian Law. The case was brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), to which the Peace Pledge Union is affiliated. 

The PPU described the judgement as a major victory for the peace movement and for all who care about human rights. It is a significant setback for the UK government, which has defended arms sales to the brutal Saudi regime in the face of widely accepted evidence of their use against thousands of Yemeni civilians. 

The International Trade Secretary must now take the export licence decisions again on the correct legal basis. However, the UK government are expected to appeal to the Supreme Court and may ask for a temporary suspension of the judgement until the appeal is heard, so that existing arms export licences do not need to be reviewed. They cannot, however, issue any new arms export licences to Saudi Arabia during this time. 

The campaign against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia has been supported by Yemeni groups and others directly affected by the Saudi regime's violence. 

CAAT spokesperson Andrew Smith welcomed today's verdict while saying that it should not have taken a court case to force the government to follow their own rules. 

Andrew Smith added, "No matter what atrocities it has inflicted, the Saudi regime has been able to count on the uncritical political and military support of the UK. The bombing has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. UK arms companies have been complicit every step of the way. The arms sales must stop immediately."

But CAAT added that the government and their corporate allies in the arms industry would resist the judgement as strongly as possible. They have urged supporters to immediately email their MPs. This can be done via the CAAT website

In addition to supplying arms to Saudi Arabia, the UK government has also used the Royal Air Force to train Saudi pilots, who are engaged in bombing Yemen. Training has taken place within the UK itself, including at RAF Valley in North Wales, where PPU members and Welsh peace groups have staged protests. 

Today's judgement is one of the biggest successes for the peace movement in the UK in recent decades. It is at least as significant, if not more so, than a court ruling in 2008 that declared that the government had unlawfully halted a criminal investigation into the arms firm BAE Systems. That case, brought by CAAT and The Corner House, severely dented BAE's reputation and influence even though it was subsequently overturned on appeal. 

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) congratulated CAAT on their success today and said it was a reminder of what grassroots nonviolent movements can achieve.

"This is a success not only for CAAT, not only for the peace movement, but for everyone who cares about human rights and justice," said PPU Campaigns Manager Symon Hill, who is also an elected member of CAAT's Steering Committee.

He added, "We need an end not only to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but to all arms sales. We need an immediate end to the Royal Air Force's complicity in bombing Yemen through the training of Saudi pilots. And we need the government to put effort and money into providing decent, socially useful jobs for people who are losing jobs in the arms industry."