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Export Licences: Saudi Arabia

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

I gave a statement to Parliament on 26 September 2019 on matters related to the breaches of the undertaking given to the Court of Appeal on 20 June 2019 by the then Secretary of State that we would not grant new licences for export to Saudi Arabia of arms and military equipment for possible use in the conflict in Yemen, and the broader commitment to Parliament, also on 20 June 2019, that we would not grant new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners which might be used in the conflict in Yemen.

The UK Government are deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The Government fully support the peace process led by the UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, and urges the parties to engage constructively with this process. A political settlement is the only way to bring long-term stability to Yemen and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis.

In relation to the breaches, I announced that the permanent secretary had commissioned, on my behalf, a full independent investigation to establish the precise circumstances in which these licences were granted, establish whether any other licences have been granted in breach of the undertaking to the Court or contrary to the parliamentary statement, and confirm that procedures are in place so that no further breaches of the undertaking can occur.

This investigation, led by an independent senior official (the director general of policy group in the Department for Work and Pensions), has now concluded. The report identifies the circumstances in which these licences were granted and assesses the interim procedures which were put in place to ensure no further breaches can occur. It is noted that no further breaches of the undertaking or the parliamentary statement have been identified since I updated the House.

The report notes the steps that have been taken to ensure that there have been no further breaches. In particular, the report states that the

“new processes established address the shortcomings that led to the breaches...The process has a greater iterative and real-time involvement, with the weekly meeting process providing more opportunities for information to be updated and changes in circumstances to be reflected in decision-making. There is greater senior involvement and oversight which should strengthen assurance.”

The interim process has led to improved, timely information sharing across Government and there is now a clear process in place to ensure that any changes in circumstances in the conflict in Yemen are addressed. Further steps have already been taken forward, including increased governance and risk management within the export control joint unit (ECJU), to meet the issues identified in the report.

I will be considering whether any further action is necessary to ensure the continuance of robust and rigorous operations and assurance processes more widely within ECJU.

I will be placing copies of the report in the Libraries of both Houses.