According to the UN World Food Programme, 14 million Yemenis are going hungry, half of them now tipping into outright starvation, an outcome long predicted by aid agencies. Much of Yemen lies in ruins. Schools, hospitals, homes and other civilian infrastructure have been bombed repeatedly by the Saudi coalition. The UN places it in the same category of severity as the crisis in Syria.
The UK government has approved £3.3bn of arms exports (including bombs and missiles) to Saudi Arabia since the intervention began, a huge rise on the equivalent preceding period. Calls to suspend those arms sales have been made by the UN secretary general, Save the Children, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. When the intervention began, then foreign secretary Philip Hammond pledged to “support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat”, including “spare parts, maintenance, technical advice, resupply” and “logistical support”. The reality is that the Saudi Air Force, roughly half UK-supplied and half US-supplied jets, could barely function without this ongoing assistance from Washington and London.
About 100 Labour MPs failed to support a motion moved by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry to withdraw support for the Saudi-led campaign. Presenting the motion in the Commons, Thornberry was subjected to a series of interruptions from Labour MPs. Indeed, Thornberry received more vocal support in the chamber from the SNP than from her own supposed parliamentary colleagues.
Labour MP John Woodcock, for instance, claimed that British support is “precisely focused on training Saudis” to improve their targeting, so as to “create fewer civilian casualties”, parroting the official government line.
The idea that the Saudis’ “widespread and systematic” attacks as stated by the UN on civilian targets are just a series of well-meaning errors is one that lacks credibility. And if decades of training provided by the British to the Saudi pilots hasn’t prevented these supposed errors by now, it seems rather unlikely that it will in the near future.