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Corbyn never backs Britain, claims PM amid Saudi arms sales criticism

Theresa May attacked Jeremy Corbyn after the Labour leader repeatedly called for arms sales to Saudi Arabia to stop.

Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (PA)
Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (PA)

Theresa May has claimed Jeremy Corbyn “never backs Britain” in response to the Labour leader’s criticism of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Prime Minister accused Mr Corbyn of sympathising with Russia over the Salisbury nerve agent attack, with the IRA when “terrorists were killing our people”, and with Iran over the recent tanker attacks in the Gulf.

Mr Corbyn had earlier warned Mrs May her Government should stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia in a bid to bring about peace in Yemen and help save thousands of lives.

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Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (PA)

He told MPs there is “overwhelming evidence” that war crimes are being committed in Yemen by Saudi Arabian forces, before further criticising Saudi Arabia for “flouting every human rights norm” at home and abroad while also “funding extremism around the world”.

The Opposition leader questioned why the UK has supplied Saudi Arabia with more than £4.5 billion of “deadly” weapons and insisted a Court of Appeal judgment should act as a “wake-up call”.

The Government announced last week that it would temporarily halt the granting of new licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia following a landmark legal victory for campaigners, which saw the Court of Appeal say continuing to license military equipment for export to the Gulf state was unlawful.

Thousands of people have been killed in Yemen’s civil war, which pitches Iran-backed Houthi rebels against a coalition led by Saudi Arabia in support of the internationally recognised government of Yemen.

Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Corbyn raised concerns over the behaviour of Saudi Arabia before adding: “But the UK has supplied them with over £4.5 billion of deadly weapons – UK weapons which have been used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in which over 200,000 people have been killed, and hundreds of thousands more stand on the brink of famine, of starvation and deaths from wholly preventable diseases.

“Surely the Court of Appeal judgment should be a wake-up call to the Prime Minister and the Government. So instead of appealing the judgment, why not accept it and stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia now and bring about peace in the Yemen and save those lives.”

Mrs May said the UK is working to bring about peace and defended the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, before telling MPs: “Let’s just look at some of the relationships (Mr Corbyn) supports.

“When people were killed in Salisbury, his sympathies were with Russia. When terrorists were killing our people, his sympathies were with the IRA. In the recent tanker attacks in the Gulf, his sympathies were with Iran.

“He never backs Britain and he should never be prime minister.”

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Theresa May during PMQs (PA)

Mr Corbyn earlier challenged the PM to follow other countries’ lead in banning the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

He said: “Germany, as an EU member state, has banned arms exports to Saudi Arabia. So has Denmark, and both the US Senate and House of Representatives have voted to ban arms exports as well.

“The UN describes the situation as, and I quote, ‘humanity’s biggest preventable disaster’ and the Government deems it fit to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia during that situation.”

Mr Corbyn then asked if the Prime Minister would answer “yes or no” to whether she believed there were human rights violations in Yemen.

Mrs May said these issues are considered “very carefully” when dealing with arms export licences before criticising Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton Kemptown), who was forced to seek the removal of a Houthi group-linked speaker invited to Parliament for a discussion on the civil war in Yemen after allegations of anti-Semitism.

Mr Corbyn also pressed Mrs May over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with an independent UN human rights expert recommending an investigation into the possible role of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Mrs May said she wants to see “accountability” for the “horrific murder”, with the issue raised with Saudi leaders.

Former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell called for the UK to adopt a “position of far greater neutrality supporting a comprehensive ceasefire”.

He added: “While Britain is absolutely to condemn the Houthi attacks on Riyadh and Jeddah, should we not also condemn the night-after-night bombings by the Saudi aircraft which are killing innocent civilians and radicalising tens of thousands of young Yemenis?”

Mrs May said the UK has called for a ceasefire.

PA

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