A former British cabinet minister has accused the Ministry of Defense of “seriously misleading” him over a missiles deal with Saudi Arabia.
Vince Cable, a former business secretary, told The Guardian he was given specific assurances by the MoD about oversight of the use of laser-guided Paveway IV missiles in the Saudi military campaign in Yemen.
Cable said he had initially blocked the deal with the Saudi government over concerns about civilian deaths in Yemen.
However, he said he was told that the UK would be involved in decisions about potential targets, the level of oversight the Saudis have reportedly granted the US.
In response, the MoD said it has no military personnel in the “targeting chain,” and denied ever offering Cable such assurances.
Cable said the MoD’s account is “total fabrication because that was very specifically stated.”
“That is categorically contrary to what I was told was going to happen. If what they are now saying [is] I was not offered oversight on an equivalent level to the Americans, and that this would involve oversight of targeting, then I was seriously misled,” he stated.
“My very clear understanding was that the equipment would be supplied to Saudi Arabia on the very clear basis that British personnel would have oversight of what the Saudi air force was doing,” the former minister insisted.
A second source who was involved in the arms deal discussions corroborated Cable’s account to The Guardian. “Mr. Cable was told we would have oversight of targeting. He wouldn’t have agreed to the licenses without this,” the source said.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said it was “extremely disturbing” that the UK government would get approval for the sale of arms for use by the Saudis in Yemen “on the basis of a lie.”
“It provides yet more evidence that limiting civilian casualties in this conflict has been the least of the government’s concerns,” she added.
The UK, one of the biggest suppliers of weapons to Riyadh over the past 40 years, has come under fire for months over its continued sales of arms to the kingdom during its war on Yemen.
Britain supplied export licenses for close to £3 billion ($3.73bn) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2015. The UK government has also been accused of being involved in guiding the Saudi military aggression in Yemen.
In September, a group of British lawmakers called on the government to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia because of its war crimes in Yemen.
“The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia while maintaining the credibility of our arms licensing regime,” the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls said in a draft report.
Since the beginning of the Saudi war against Yemen in March of last year, nearly 10,000 people, including over 2,000 children, have been killed.