Theresa May has defended the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Despite coming under fire from politicians ahead of her meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, May said the countries’ relationship will remain strong.
British PM May claimed Britain’s relationship with the Middle East kingdom has prevented deaths. However, the UK is selling arms to the Saudis which are used in the war in Yemen, which has turned into one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises as aid routes are strangled and record numbers of children have cholera. Despite the attack over the dispatch box, Tory leader May said the UK will stand by its ally.
She said intelligence gathered from the Middle East over planned terrorist attacks has prevented mass deaths. “I look forward to welcoming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from Saudi Arabia,” May said.
“The link we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, important and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country. The fact it is an important link is not just the view I hold. The shadow foreign secretary this morning said ‘our relationship with Saudi Arabia is an important one.’ She said we wouldn’t be pulling our punches and I agree. I will be raising concerns about human rights with the crown prince when I meet him.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the relationship actually “threatened” people in the UK since a report – which he accused the government of “suppressing” – said the Saudis were funding terrorist groups active in the UK. He also pointed out 600,000 children have cholera in Yemen and aid routes have been blocked.
“It cannot be right that [May’s] government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes,” Corbyn said. “Will the prime minister use her meeting with the crown prince to halt arms sales and demand an immediate ceasefire?”
May said the report has not been suppressed and Labour has been invited to read it. “We are all concerned about the appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen and the effect it is having on people,” she said. “As a government we increased funding for Yemen. For 2017/2018 we increased it to over £200 million [US$ 277 million]. We are the third largest humanitarian donor to the Yemen.
“We are delivering life-saving support which will deliver nutrition for more than 1.7million people.” May also said the UK is “holding the Saudis to account,” adding: “We have encouraged the Saudi Arabian government to ensure that when there are allegations of activity taking place which is not in line with international and humanitarian laws they investigate it and learn lessons from it. I believe something like 55 reports have already been published.
“On the issue of arms exports to Saudi Arabia, [Corbyn] seems to be at odds with his shadow foreign secretary once again, because she said this morning the arms industry is ‘not something I am seeking to undermine as long as it is within international law.’ We agree we have very a tight arms export regime in this country and when there are allegations of arms not being used within the law we expect that to be investigated.”
The crown prince has been in his post for nine months and is on his first official visit to the UK. Known as MBS to friends, Salman, 32, will dine with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, and have dinner with the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cambridge at Clarence House.
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