MPs opposed to a strongly worded draft select committee report attacking UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia withdrew from a critical meeting on Monday night in a bid to prevent other MPs going ahead with a vote on the report, it was alleged in parliament.
The alleged ploy, revealed by a frustrated Labour MP opposed to the sales, shows the high-stakes political manoeuvring which is under way. Some MPs are seeking to water down the committees on arms export controls draft report and so preserve the current strong diplomatic UK relations with Saudi Arabia.
A strong call from the committee to suspend arms export licences pending an independent UN-led investigation of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen could not be readily ignored by the government, and would infuriate the defence industry.
The chair of the foreign affairs select committee, Crispin Blunt, angered by leaks on BBC Newsnight and in the Guardian, called for private investigators to be hired by parliament to investigate the source of them, describing them as some of the most serious in his near 20-year parliamentary career.
The alleged manoeuvre to frustrate the work of the committees on arms export controls was revealed by Labour’s Stephen Doughty, a member of the committee, during a point of order in the Commons.
The committee had been convened on Wednesday to vote on a draft report critical of ministers’ assurances that there was no risk of a breach of international human rights law by Saudi in its bombing campaign in Yemen.
More than 130 amendments had been tabled by the pro-defence industry Labour MP John Spellar and Blunt, broadly designed to water down the original draft, and exclude any call for a UK suspension of arms sales. Both MPs, along with ministers, felt the draft was one-sided in its criticism of Saudi Arabia, and did not take account of the conduct of Houthi militias in a bloody 18-month civil war.
MPs are not allowed to reveal the details of private select committee proceedings, but Doughty partly lifted the veil of secrecy during a point of order, including an apparent effort to prevent a quorum by MPs leaving the committee meeting.
He asked: Is it in order for MPs to withdraw from the proceedings at a crucial moment in those proceedings to frustrate the moving on to formal consideration of matters in that committee, and declaring they were doing so with the express intent of withdrawing to prevent those proceedings from going forward with the knock-on effect that other members from their constituent committees were not able then to speak, take part, or vote in the proceedings of the committee?
The arms exports committee is made up of four different select committees.
The controversial draft, prepared before the end of the summer recess, says it seems inevitable that violations of international humanitarian laws have involved arms supplied by the UK.
It says: Given that the UK has a long history of defence exports to Saudi Arabia and considering the evidence we heard it seems inevitable that any violations of international humanitarian law by the coalition have involved arms supplied by the UK.
It adds: The government has relied almost exclusively on assurances from the Saudi government that the coalition is operating within the boundaries of international law despite the fact that we heard very credible sources to the contrary.
We have found the government’s arms export licensing regime which is repeatedly asserts is robust is in fact to a large extent opaque and the government too often relies on assertion rather than positive evidence.
It is deeply concerning that since the military intervention in Yemen the UK government has approved substantial increases in arm licences to Saudi Arabia on the very items which could be used in an aerial campaign.
The draft also accuses the government of giving contradictory assurances about the unprecedented degree of UK involvement in providing military advice to the Saudis, including in the joint combined planning cell and the Saudi Air Operations Centre.
Amendments due to be discussed on Wednesday also contained sharp criticisms for ministers providing contradictory assurances that had subsequently to be corrected.
Blunt, demanding a leak inquiry by the privileges committee, added that since no criminal offence had occurred, and the police could not therefore be called in, it should be open for the committee to call in private investigators.
These investigators he said would have the capacity to interrogate the electronic records, including deleted emails of potential sources of this confidential and private consideration of select committees, in this instance of the greatest seriousness involving life and death issues and the employment of tens of thousands of our fellow citizens. He added: I cannot recall an example of such deliberate and repeated leaking of information in our time in the house.
News Source TheGuardianNews