An MP has hit out at the government for spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money helping oil rich Saudi Arabia protect its royal family at a time of defence cuts at home.
Martyn Day said it was ‘beyond belief’ that our soldiers and airmen were working alongside the desert kingdom’s armed forces while our troops suffer from ‘slashes in spending’.
The Ministry of Defence revealed in a parliamentary answer that between 2016-2020 the UK’s military’s training for Saudi Arabia cost the taxpayer nearly £2.5m.
This included £1.7m through the Integrated Activity Fund, £500,000 through the Gulf Strategy Fund and more than £220,000 through the Defence Assistance Fund.
During the same period Britain’s military has suffered severe cuts with latest reports claiming £1bn in savings was needed over the next year, with Navy Reservists suspended for the first time.
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Mr Day, the SNP member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, said the British taxpayer should not be helping Saudi Arabia wage a ‘brutal’ war on Yemen.
He said: “It is beyond belief that the Ministry of Defence feels millions of taxpayer pounds from the UK’s own defence budget is best spent on assistance to Saudi Arabia, a country renowned for its staggering wealth and oil revenues.
“To top it all off, this comes at a time when the British armed forces have been suffering from poor budget management and slashes in spending.
“The government must explain to the public why it has chosen to direct so much of their money to a nation whose human rights record is truly appalling, whilst undercutting their own services.”
The Saudi-led war on Yemen has left 233,000 dead since it started in 2015 with an air and land campaign.
RAF personnel were deployed to work as engineers and help train Saudi pilots, while liaison officers have worked inside the Saudi control centres where targets in Yemen are selected.
British special forces are also reported to have been inside Yemen assisting Saudi ground forces sent in after air strikes failed to achieve their goal.
Human rights groups have criticised a devastating bombing campaign which has frequently hit civilian targets, including schools and hospitals.
The conflict has also led to what the UN called ‘the world’s worst humanitarian disaster’, with 24 million people – or 80% of the country – in need of humanitarian assistance, including 12 million children.
Mr Day added: “Not content with merely profiting from arming Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen, I am shocked to find that the UK government has also covertly funnelled millions of pounds through secretive funds to train the Saudi armed forces. The taxpayer should never be forced to foot the bill for training abusive states.”
According to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT)the UK has licensed £5.4billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the bombing of Yemen began in 2015.
These included £2.7bn worth of ML10 licenses for aircraft, helicopters and drones, and £2.5bn worth of ML4 licenses for grenades, bombs and missiles.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition and we have played no role in setting Saudi-led coalition policy.
“Our defence relationship with Saudi Arabia includes training courses, advice and guidance. This supports the efforts of Saudi Arabia to protect national and regional security, as well as their military’s compliance with international humanitarian law.”