The row in Britain over arms sales to Saudi Arabia looks set to insensify after a senior British MP took the unusual step of preparing an alternative report on the matter to the one produced by the parliamentary committe which he chairs.
Crispin Blunt, who heads the all-party foreign affairs select xommittee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday: “I have put an alternate report [into consideration] and my committee will consider both.”
A previous draft report prepared by the committee was set to call for a freeze on new UK arms sales to Saudi until after an independent inquiry into the way the Saudi-led coalition has conducted its intervention in the civil war in Yemen.
The controversy comes amid claims from human rights groups that Riyadh – which has led a military campaign against the Houthi rebels since last March – has carried out repeated and indiscriminate air raids on civilians that could amount to war crimes.
Were such air attacks to constitute to a breach of international humanitarian law there would be sufficient cause to suspend all sales of British arms to the Saudis. That would mark a redirection of foreign policy in London and cause deep unease within the British defence industry which has close links with many wealthy Gulf countries.
However, Blunt said he was preparing to propose a completely new report into the sales and says the parliamentary system of monitoring such deals needed to be totally reformed.
He has also called for an investigation into how a draft report calling for a halt to the sales was leaked to the BBC’s Newsnight programme last week.
The highly critical draft report noted that “the weight of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition [in Yemen] is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia”.
The investigation into Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen – they are said to have used UK-made weapons in sorties that violated international law – reportedly split the parliamentary committee down the middle, with pro-defence industry MPs submitting 130 amendments to the report.
Blunt himself is said to have walked out of a closed meeting on the draft in order to prevent the remaining members from forming a quorum.
After the leak of that draft, Blunt confirmed that he was preparing his own version to submit to the committee so that it has a “completely agreed report”.
He said the leaked draft, which was “in the hands of the BBC within two hours of being sent”’ gave “a very one-sided view” of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
Human rights campaigners and non-governmental organisations, including aid charities, have frequently called for a halt to UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing reports that British-made weapons or ordnance was used in strikes against civilians.
Blunt has also faced media questions about a report, which he headed, which was highly critical of former British prime minister David Cameron over the 2011 intervention in Libya.
Blunt said that the aim of protecting civilians at risk in the Libyan city of Benghazi had been achieved “within 24 hours” of NATO-led bombing in March 2011, and that the intervention should then have been scaled down.
Instead, Blunt said, the campaign then strayed from civilian protection to regime change, without adequate planning to stabilise Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.