The UK's leading arms maker, BAE Systems, says it is in talks with Saudi Arabia to secure a multi-billion-dollar arms contract, amid outrage over the use of British-made weapons by Riyadh in Yemen.
“Discussions between BAE Systems, the UK government and Saudi Arabia are progressing,” the London-based weapons maker said on Thursday.
BAE Systems also noted that it was working to define the scope of cooperation between the UK and the Arab kingdom over the next five years.
Under the terms of the contract, the multinational aerospace and electronics giant will provide training, support and upgrades for Hawk aircraft the UK has sold to Saudi Arabia. It also hopes to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the Saudis for a reported £4 billion ($4.97bn) under a separate deal.
This is while British lawmakers from a powerful committee said last month that there was evidence that UK-made weapons have been used in Yemen in violation of international humanitarian law.
“The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great, that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia," the Committee on Arms Export Control (CAEC) said.
The committee also raised serious concerns about the UK’s commitment to international law regarding the sale of arms.
CAEC inquiry chair Chris White stressed that the government must now take urgent action in halting the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
UK supports repressive regimes
Meanwhile, the British government was accused on Thursday of sacrificing human rights in order to access oil from repressive regimes in the Persian Gulf region.
Human rights group War on Want said in a report that the UK regards Persian Gulf states as vital partners in securing Britain’s energy interests.
"From the sale of vast quantities of tear gas and other crowd control tools, to the training of sniper units used to put down pro-democracy protests, the UK government, working closely with a large number of private companies, are key partners for repressive regimes in the [Persian] Gulf, with devastating consequences for democracy and human rights,” said Dr. Sam Raphael, the report’s author and senior lecturer in international relations at the University of Westminster.
According to the report, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are among the Persian Gulf countries regarded as priority markets. The two Arab kingdoms have been widely criticized by international advocacy groups for their human rights record.
London has been one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to Riyadh for 40 years.
According to sources, the UK supplied export licenses for close to £3 billion ($3.73bn) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2015. The British government has also been accused of being involved in guiding the Saudi military aggression in Yemen.
Since the beginning of the Saudi war against Yemen in March of last year, nearly 10,000 people, including over 2,000 children, have been killed.