The prime minister has been pressed to justify a cut in aid to Yemen while the UK continues to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.Opening Prime Minister's Questions, Sir Keir Starmer asked Boris Johnson if he agrees with US President Joe Biden that the sale of arms that could be used in the war in Yemen should be suspended.
The Labour leader said the UK is “increasingly isolated” in selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
He told the Commons: “(Boris Johnson) says the system’s very robust in relation to arms sales, it can’t be that robust, the government lost a court case just two years ago in relation to arms sales.
“The truth is the UK is increasingly isolated in selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Despite what’s happening in Yemen, despite Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a murder the US has concluded was approved by the Saudi Crown Prince.
“So I have to ask, what would it take for the Prime Minister to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia?”
Mr Johnson responded: “We’ve condemned the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we continue to call for a full investigation into the causes of his death and indeed, we have already sanctioned 20 people in Saudi Arabia.
“And I repeat the point that I have made that the UK Government continues to follow the consolidated guidance which, by the way, was set up by the Labour Party.”
Boris Johnson insisted moves to slash aid contributions to war-torn Yemen are in line with the priorities of Britons, despite a growing Tory rebellion.
Mr Johnson criticised Sir Keir for using his six questions at today's PMQs to focus on the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
The UK has pledged at least £87 million in aid, down from a promise of £160 million in 2020 and £200 million in 2019.
MPs, including Conservatives, have warned the decision will put lives at risk and leave hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children to starve.
It follows a temporary reduction in UK aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income, despite a Conservative manifesto commitment to the higher target.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir followed Tory MPs in calling for a Commons vote on the Government’s cut to international aid.
He hit out at the government’s “manifesto-breaking cuts” to aid, before adding: “They should at least put that to a vote in this House. Will he have the courage to do so?”
Mr Johnson replied: “We’re going to get on with our agenda of delivering for the people of this country and spending more than virtually any other country in the world, spending more than virtually any other country in the G7 on aid.
“It’s a record of which this country can be proud. Given the difficulties that this country faces, I think the people of this country will think we’ve got our priorities right.”
Mr Johnson went on: “He can’t even address a question on the issues of the hour – he could have asked anything about the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he’s concentrated his questions entirely to the interests of the people of Yemen and we’re doing everything we can to support the people of Yemen given the constraints we face.”
The PM added the government was also presenting a “Budget for recovery”.
Sir Keir earlier pressed Mr Johnson on whether arms sales to Yemen should be suspended.
He said: “Does the prime minister agree with (US) President Biden that the sale of arms that could be used in the war in Yemen should be suspended?”
The prime minister replied: “Ever since the tragic conflict in Yemen broke out this country has scrupulously followed the consolidated guidance of which (Sir Keir) will be well aware.”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also said: “The situation in Yemen has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – 100,000 have been killed, 16.2 million are at risk of starvation, 2.3 million children are at death’s door facing acute malnutrition.
“The UK government’s response isn’t one of compassion, instead it’s to impose cuts. That’s what you’re doing, prime minister.”
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