International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has announced a temporary suspension of export licences to the kingdom
The UK government on Thursday suspended new arms deals with Saudi Arabia after a court ruled they were illegal.
The Court of Appeal in London ruled the government’s granting of export licences broke the law because ministers failed to properly assess whether UK-made weapons were used as part of bombing campaigns in Yemen.
According to estimates by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for over 8,000 deaths in Yemen since 2015.
The three judges at the Court of Appeal in London ruled it was "irrational and therefore unlawful" for International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to grant weapons licences without checking whether they were intended for use in Yemen or not.
Judges Sir Terence Etherton, Sir Stephen Irwin and Sir Rabinder Singh said ministers "made no concluded assessments of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past, during the Yemen conflict, and made no attempt to do so".
The court did not order ministers to suspend arms sales but told them to "reconsider the matter" and that they "must make the necessary assessments about past episodes of concern".
It did not rule on whether the UK or Saudi Arabia had breached international humanitarian law — just that the UK should have taken the matter into consideration when granting the licences.
The case was brought to the High Court by the Campaign Against Arms Trade as part of their “Stop Arming Saudi” campaign.
Responding to the court ruling, the group said in a statement: "We celebrate this historic verdict. But these weapons sales should never have been licensed in the first place.
"It shouldn’t take four years of schools, hospitals, weddings, and funerals being bombed. It should not take tens of thousands of deaths and the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
"We must also question a system – and the priorities of government – that have allowed the continuing provision of arms in these circumstances."
Speaking to the House of Commons, Fox said his department would temporarily suspend all new export licences to Saudi Arabia but he disagreed with the ruling and would appeal.
According to Action on Armed Violence, a charity which campaigns against global arms trade, the UK approved £4.7bn (€5.2bn) worth of export licences between 2008 and 2017.
Following the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October, several EU countries such as Denmark and Sweden announced they were suspending arms exports to the country.
Germany said it would put a six-month embargo on exports, which it later extended until September 2019.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Trade told Euronews: "This judgement is not about whether the decisions themselves were right or wrong, but whether the process in reaching those decisions was correct.
"We disagree with the judgment and will be seeking permission to appeal."