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Diana stance on arms hailed as MP criticises use of Charles in Saudi trade deal

Published 08/06/2016

MPs speaking in a Westminster Hall debate lined up to criticise Saudi Arabia's poor record on human rights
MPs speaking in a Westminster Hall debate lined up to criticise Saudi Arabia's poor record on human rights
The Prince of Wales demonstrates his sword-dancing skills

The late Diana, Princess of Wales would have campaigned against alleged Saudi killing of Yemeni civilians in stark contrast to the Prince of Wales who courted the kingdom's princes ahead of a controversial arms deal, an MP has said.

The UK's relationship with Saudi Arabia has faced renewed scrutiny following revelations British police have trained officials from the country in detective skills they accept could be used in the execution of pro-democracy activists.

While the UK Government had licensed £6.7 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia since 2010, including £2.8 billion since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015.

Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate on the human rights record of the autocratic regime, SNP MP Margaret Ferrier said the Government must impose a ban on the sale of arms to the country.

And she criticised Charles, who donned traditional robes and joined Saudi princes in February 2014 in a sword dance in their capital of Riyadh the day before British arms company BAE announced a multi-billion pound sale of Typhoon fighters to the kingdom.

She said: "People will recall the fantastic work of Princess Diana in raising awareness of mines, leading to the success of the Ottawa mine ban treaty. Putting herself in danger in the process, she left behind a lasting legacy through her bold activism.

"If she were still here today, I have no doubt she would be a fierce advocate for the civilians suffering in the growing humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

"In stark contrast, the UK goes to great lengths to ensure that the arms trade with Saudi Arabia continues unhampered.

"Back in 2014, when the Prime Minister could not convince the Saudis to agree to the financing for a multibillion-pound defence deal, Prince Charles was dispatched to the Middle East to a festival supported by BAE Systems to perform a sword dance in traditional Saudi attire.

"The next day, Saudi Arabia and BAE announced that the deal had been finalised. Great effort is put into maintaining our relationship and arms trade with Saudi Arabia."

MPs lined up to criticise Saudi Arabia's record on human rights and to warn that evidence strongly suggested Saudi-led coalition forces had dropped cluster munitions in Yemen.

Cluster bombs, which are banned under international law, kill indiscriminately and can lie undetected for many years if they fail to detonate - posing a threat to civilian populations.

MPs warned there is evidence that schools and hospitals are being targeted in the Yemen bombing campaign.

And they criticised Saudi Arabia's bloody crackdown on its own people, executing many who have dared to speak out against the regime.

Ms Ferrier said: "The use of cluster munitions in Yemen is scandalous; this is a country facing an almost incomprehensible humanitarian crisis.

"Will the Government now, in light of all of this evidence, follow the example set by Germany and Sweden and impose a ban on the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia whilst an investigation takes place?"

DUP MP Jim Shannon echoed the concerns, saying: "We are on the wrong side of humanity if we continue to cosy up to the brutal theocracy of Saudi Arabia, and we will be on the wrong side of history."

Foreign Office Minister David Lidington said Saudi Arabia has a "very different culture, very different political traditions" from Britain, but is an important ally in the fight against Islamic State (also known as IS or Daesh) terrorism.

He said the Government "remains committed" to campaigning against the death penalty and will "encourage" Saudi Arabia to abolish it.

Mr Lidington added: "We have not supplied cluster weapons of any kind to Saudi Arabia since the 1980s.

"The United Kingdom signed the convention on cluster munitions in 2008 and ratified it in May 2010, and since 2008 we have not supplied, maintained or supported these weapons anywhere in the world.

"The Government does take the allegations that have been made very seriously. We are seeking clarification from the Saudi-led coalition about those allegations, and, in line with our obligations under the convention on cluster munitions, we have always made it clear to the Saudis that we cannot support the use of cluster munitions in any circumstances, and we continue to encourage Saudi Arabia, as a non-party to the convention, to accede to it."

He said the Ministry of Defence has assessed that the Saudi-led coalition is not targeting civilians and said the Government "pressed the Saudis" to investigate allegations that its forces have breached international and humanitarian law.

He added: "The Government's judgment remains that a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia helps us to keep this country both prosperous and safe, and that it is by working with Saudi Arabia that we can encourage the changes we would like to see in that country."

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