Fallon: Saudi critics ‘unhelpful’ to arms sales

26 Oct

Asked by the Defence Select Committee why Saudi Arabia hasn’t yet signed a deal to buy new Typhoon jets, the Defence Secretary said: “I travelled to Saudi Arabia back in September and discussed progress on the deal with my opposite number, the Crown Prince, and pushed for a statement of intent, as we’ve had with Qatar.

“I have to repeat – sadly – that other criticism of Saudi Arabia in this Parliament is not helpful. I’ll leave it there.

“But we need to do everything possible to encourage Saudi Arabia towards batch 2 – I think they will commit but we need to work away at the timing.”

:: Saudi crown prince pledges to ‘end extremism very soon’

The deal, which was expected some months ago, might have been sufficient to ward off almost 2,000 job cuts announced by BAE Systems two weeks ago.

Theresa May meets King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia in April
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Theresa May meets King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia in April

The Defence Secretary’s words were immediately jumped on by opposition parties.

The SNP’s defence spokesman Stewart McDonald MP tweeted: “The Secretary of State is turning a blind eye to Saudi human rights abuses. SNP MPs will not do so.”

Reprieve, the charity that works with individuals facing execution in Saudi Arabia, released a statement saying: “It is chilling that our Defence Secretary sees fit to warn MPs not to criticise one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.

“The Saudi government has executed hundreds in recent years, including children.

“Several juveniles and protesters are at imminent risk of death – and still, Britain lends strong support to Saudi security forces, who use torture to extract false confessions.

“It is perverse to suggest that these abuses, and the strong risk of British complicity, should escape parliamentary scrutiny.

“Mr Fallon must urgently explain himself to MPs and the public.”

A Eurofighter Typhoon at BAE Systems, Warton Aerodrome, Lancashire.
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BAE Systems recently announced more than 1,000 job cuts

Andrew Smith, from the Campaign Against Arms Trade, said the comments were “disgraceful”.

“He is calling on other parliamentarians to join him in putting arms sales ahead of human rights, democracy and international humanitarian law,” Mr Smith said.

“The Saudi regime has one of the most appalling human rights records in the world, and has inflicted a terrible humanitarian catastrophe on Yemen.

“Fallon should be doing all he can to stop the bloodshed and end UK complicity in the suffering, not urging his colleagues to willingly ignore the abuses in order to sell even more weapons.”

A Conservative Party source said that Sir Michael was specifically referring to Labour MPs and the party’s last-minute decision to ban Saudi representatives wishing to attend the Labour Party Conference.

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