On 22 October, Jeremy Corbyn left Theresa May shifting about uncomfortably in her seat. Because with one simple question, he challenged her government to give a truly meaningful response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi Arabian consulate. But we already knew the answer to that question.
May’s woeful response
The prime minister has condemned Khashoggi’s murder. But as Corbyn said:
condemnation, Mr Speaker, is not enough. What matters now is what action the government is prepared to take. Will they now end arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
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Jeremy Corbyn: "I'm pleased the PM has condemned the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but condemnation is not enough! Will she now end arms sales to Saudi Arabia?" pic.twitter.com/t6mz7x5fRW
— C0RBYNAT0R (@Corbynator2) October 22, 2018
Unfortunately, we all know the answer to that question.
The UK has licensed £4.7bn arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the last three years. And this has coincided with a Saudi-led military coalition decimating Yemen, causing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and leading it towards the Earth’s worst famine in a hundred years. This was apparently not a good enough reason to stop the arms sales. Nor were Saudi terror links or human rights abuses. And nor is Khashoggi’s murder, apparently.
Human Rights Watch says a suspension of arms sales would send Saudi Arabia a “critical message”. And on 21 October, Germany became the first country to send this message by pledging to stop arms sales. But so far, Theresa May has failed to follow Germany’s lead.
The UK’s ‘special responsibility’
Responding to a recent tweet from foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt which talked about a “special responsibility” to Yemen, for example, Corbyn said:
Yes, the UK does have a special responsibility.
To stop arming Saudi Arabia and to help end the war in Yemen causing this humanitarian crisis. https://t.co/AEovkoAJk5
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 17, 2018
But no matter how much pressure Corbyn puts on the government, its policy position seems clear: no atrocity is worth sacrificing billions of pounds of arms sales.
As Andrew Smith from Campaign Against Arms Trade asked on 22 October:
What more would it take to end the arms sales and end the uncritical support that has been given to the regime?
That’s a brilliant question. And we should all demand an answer from May.
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