To be a ‘force for good,’ the UK must end support for the Saudi war in Yemen

In this piece, originally published in Responsible Statecraft, I call for a more coherent approach to UK human rights policy in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives a speech outside Downing Street. (Image: Cubankite/Shutterstock)

In an address to the Munich Security Conference on February 19, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a claim we have heard before: the U.K. should be a “force for good” in the world. Johnson, alongside Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, sees this as a key component of the “ Global Britain” agenda post-Brexit, and the phrase has been a frequent refrain in their speeches over the past two years.

In practice, however, the government is not living up to this ideal. Just three days after the speech, the director of policy for the major U.K. non-profit Oxfam, Sam Nadel, accused the government of prolonging the war in Yemen through its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. In particular, sales of air-to-air refueling equipment, which allows Saudi planes to fly for longer and conduct so-called “dynamic” strikes on newly acquired targets, have led to an escalation of the destruction, and the war has now displaced 3.6 million people.

Put simply, the U.K. government’s refusal this month to cease sales of offensive weapons is incompatible with its goal to be a force for good. Unless Johnson wants to continue to aid and abet the perpetrators of what many call the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, he must end U.K. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Alistair Somerville is the publications editor at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and editor of The Diplomatic Pouch. Twitter: @apsomerville

Alistair Somerville is the publications editor at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and editor of The Diplomatic Pouch. Twitter: @apsomerville