Unlike Boris Johnson, Corbyn is taking a stand against Saudi Arabia
28 Sep 2017 - 17:47
Boris Johnson’s first speech to a Conservative Party conference as Foreign Secretary was entitled: “How British Values help to make the world richer and safer”.
He reeled off all those noble things we hold up as good… the rule of law, human rights, independent judiciary, habeas corpus, equalities of race and gender and sexual orientation.
In the very same month Johnson was pressing for Britain to continue exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia after the bombing of a funeral in Yemen that killed 140 people.
What about the right not to be bombed when you’re burying a loved one?
Johnson — let’s not call him Boris because it’s just too cuddly — decided that such air raids by Saudi Arabia did not cross the threshold of humanitarian laws.
Instead he could only express “profound concern” for the suffering of people in Yemen.
But surely if you sell weapons to a country that then uses them to commit atrocities against its neighbours are you not complicit in the crime?
The facts are that since 2015 we have sold £3bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia which has carried out 87 unlawful attacks in Yemen, some using UK-made bombs.
Now either you just pretend it’s not happening like Theresa May did in April when she travelled to Saudi Arabia to sign yet another arms deal.
In some warped attempt to make up for it she boasted that we were the fourth largest donor to Yemen of humanitarian aid, handing over £103m.Or, as Jeremy Corbyn has done, you point out that there’s a bit of a disconnect going on here.
“We are selling arms to Saudi Arabia… and at the same time we are sending aid in, we should not be doing both,” he said.
And to make his point Corbyn banned Saudi Arabia from this week’s Labour Party Conference.
Is Corbyn — not Johnson — not now the one who is really standing up for British values? The right not to be bombed in your bed.
The British public are with him on this. A Save The Children/YouGov poll found that 59 per cent of the UK is against selling arms to countries fighting in Yemen.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition went in at the invitation of the Yemeni government fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The UN has declared the country the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. According to Human Rights Watch, 80 per cent of the country needs humanitarian aid, seven million are hungry and a cholera epidemic has infected 500,000 people.
A report by UN human right’s chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein found 5000 civilians had been killed and 8700 wounded in air strikes, mainly at the hands of coalition forces.
Last month an air raid in the capital, Sana’a, which killed 14 civilians including several children was described as “a technical mistake”.
There have obviously been atrocities committed by the Houthis, to deny that would be idiotic.
But they are not being supplied with weapons by us, as the Saudis are.
To ban the Saudis from Labour Party conference is a gesture, but an important one because it shows the Leader of the Opposition taking a stance against a British ally.
Let’s hope it will herald a change of culture at Westminster dominated to date by Saudi cheerleaders such as the Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski.
Thankfully he is no longer on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, whose new chairman is Tom Tugendhat, a former army lieutenant colonel who has shown some signs of toughening towards the Saudis.
Along with the new chairman of the International Development Select Committee, Stephen Twigg, Tugendhat is urging Britain to get behind an initiative by the Dutch and Canadian governments to establish an independent international inquiry to investigate violations committed by both sides in the Yemeni conflict.
The question of whether war crimes had been committed by Saudi Arabia using weapons supplied by British companies was the subject of heated confrontation between Newsnight and Kawczynski two years ago.
The MP spent seven minutes refusing to answer whether the Saudis should even face an investigation into whether they’d committed war crimes. We’ve had enough of the complacency of people like Kawczynski who tells us there have been no violations of international law — simply because the head of the Royal Saudi Air Force has told him so.
Why should we listen to the head of BAE Systems, which sells the weapons, say that Saudi Arabia is “not an aggressor in the conflict, but a defender”?
Johnson has said that “promoting human rights is an essential aim of the foreign policy of a Global Britain”.
Let’s see if he can move beyond “profound concern” for the people of Yemen and actually do something about it.
The writer is a former foreign editor at Daily Mail, ex-Head of News and US Editor at Daily Mirror. In 2015 he set up Clio Media, a news and picture agency, with parenting author and feature writer, Tanith Carey.