Saudi deal creates a desert pong
Arms exports, Issue 1466
may-salman.jpg THE commercial highlight of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s UK visit to the UK was his statement of intent to buy 48 more Typhoon fighter jets, giving a multi-billion-pound boost to the largest beneficiary of the UK-Saudi arms trade, BAE Systems.

The downside is that Typhoons and other British weapons are behind many of the Saudi attacks on Yemen that have claimed thousands of civilian lives. So what’s to prevent yet more “Made in Britain” carnage in the region?

When Jeremy Corbyn raised the matter at prime minister’s questions, Theresa May assured the House: “This country has a very tight arms export regime, and when there are allegations of arms not being used within the law we expect that to be investigated and lessons to be learned.”

‘Social and economic reform’
The regime in question is overseen by the Commons committee on arms export controls, chaired by Labour MP for Hyndburn Graham Jones, who is one of parliament’s strongest supporters of the Saudi Arabian government. Writing on the PoliticsHome website ahead of MBS’s visit, Jones drooled that the Crown Prince was “overseeing an ambitious programme of social and economic reform… [and] has also prioritised tackling extremism in his own country and across the wider region”.

When it came to selling arms to MBS, government and parliament had approved the deals and a judicial review brought by anti-arms-trade campaigners had been defeated. Protesters, Jones lamented, were “ignoring the rulings made in the high court, the decision of the government and the will of parliament”.

In fact the ruling in the high court was not as clear-cut as Jones claims. Even the head of the government’s Export Control Organisation admitted that “my gut tells me we should suspend” sales to Saudi. The court decided against this only because there were measures in place to monitor the use of weapons sold. These included the appearance of ministers “before the parliamentary committees on arms export controls and the all-parliamentary [sic] group on Yemen” (of which Jones is a vice-chair). So weapons sales can go ahead because they’re scrutinised by the MP who says everyone agrees they can go ahead!

‘Highly-skilled jobs’
Jones is also a champion of BAE Systems. In 2016 he wrote: “The government must remember the hundreds of high-skilled jobs which depend on our exports to Saudi Arabia. This is no clearer [than] in Hyndburn, where many east Lancashire companies rely on the export of Typhoons.” Scrutiny of the use of British weapons in Yemen thus depends on a man whose hardly secure 5,815 majority gives him quite a stake in the commercial fortunes of the chief bomb-dropper.

  • Graham Jones was also among seven MPs who flew to Dubai last month for the World Government Summit, which “sets the agenda for the next generation of governments” and is run by the United Arab Emirates – another state with no democracy, repressive politics and a deep involvement in the Yemen war. As well as Jones, two more MPs from the arms export controls committee attended the summit: Leo Docherty and Pauline Latham. The UAE has been hosting the summit since 2013, when former PM Gordon Brown was paid £91,000 to help get it off the ground. The summit gives the autocratic emirates the sheen of a progressive, modern state.

More top stories in the latest issue:

‘We must stand up to Russia’, says Jacob Rees-Mogg, part owner of a fund manager with a hefty stake in Russia’s biggest bank and other Russian stocks.

The Brexit and international trade departments still use the services of a Saudi Arabian travel group whose founder was imprisoned on corruption charges.

Ex-Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie… and the mystery of his role in the UK’s Vote Leave campaign.

Whisper it, but the government seems keen to stay part of almost all the EU’s new defence initiatives, even after the UK leaves the EU.

Just a month after the General Synod, the Church of England has suddenly discovered “around” 100 new safeguarding concerns about its church officers.

Dr Grim on Rwandan president Paul Kagame’s transformation from liberator to dictator in a land where opponents face detention, torture and death.

The new airport was an expensive fiasco… but now flights are finally landing on the mid-Atlantic territory, where are all the hotel beds for visitors?

Will public transport firm Translink manage to do to Derry’s grandiose Victorian rail terminus what IRA bombs failed to do in the 1970s?

With a new appointment for former toothpaste-squeezer Michael ‘Fawcett the Fence’, Prince Charles seems to have given up on his sons taking over his charities.

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Private Eye Issue 1465