Labour MP Zarah Sultana called the finding ‘utterly shameful’ and accused the UK Government of ‘complicity’ in the Saudi-led war on Yemen

The Ministry of Defence has been paid £303.6 million by the Saudi Arabian Government over the past five years for British soldiers and civil servants to support and train the Saudis on how to use the deadly weapons systems it has sold to the Kingdom.

New data shows how – under the Ministry of Defence Saudi Armed Forces Projects (MODSAP) – the MoD, weapons manufacturers, and the Saudi Government work closely together to maintain the Saudi military.

More than 200 British service and civilian personnel – 203 as of 1 April 2021 – work for MODSAP, according to the figures.

In response, Labour MP Zarah Sultana accused the Government of “complicity” in the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which has so far killed tens of thousands of civilians.

The FOI data – obtained by the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) shows that the Saudi Government had paid the MoD more than £60 million each year between the financial years 2016-17 and 2020-21.

The highest-paid employee in the programme is the director, Air Vice Marshall Chris Snaith, who received up to £119,999 a year. One air commodore is paid between £109,368 and £113,794; and two senior civil servants receive salaries within the pay bracket £70,000 to £117,800 for working with the Saudis.

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The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) described the £300 million amount as a “very notable figure”, which showed that weapons manufacturer BAE systems, the MoD and the Saudi military are “deeply integrated”.

Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, research coordinator at CAAT, described the MODSAP scheme as “absolutely critical in enabling [the Saudis] to maintain their war in Yemen over the past seven years”.

“At least 9,000 civilians have been killed in direct attacks on civilian targets,” he said. “They have hit hospitals, schools, marketplaces and agricultural facilities. This raises further questions as to the direct complicity of the UK Government in the atrocities committed by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” he said.

Sultana said that the MoD’s money was “soaked in Yemeni blood”.

“It is utterly shameful for the Conservative Government to take hundreds of millions of pounds from the Saudi regime to run MODSAP, even supplying it with hundreds of British service personnel,” she said.

The MP called on the Government to immediately end arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “The Saudi-led war on Yemen is responsible for a litany of war crimes and creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” she added. “These new figures yet again show our Government’s complicity in this horror.”


A Profitable Partnership

Little has been publicly revealed about the MODSAP programme but a recent job listing for a “business improvement manager” said that the project plays “a key role in assuring the programme delivery of aviation and naval equipment and services worth billions to the UK economy”.

Royal Airforce and Navy personnel work alongside MoD civil servants to ensure “requirements of the Saudi Arabian Government are faithfully met and contracted programmes of work run smoothly”, another job listing outlined.

Saudi Arabia is a key buyer of UK weapons and UK’s leading arms manufacturer BAE systems has sold more than £17 billion of weaponry – including the company’s Typhoon fighter jets – to the Kingdom since the war in Yemen began in 2015.

Saudi Arabia is such a big customer that in 2021 it made up an-eighth of BAE’s total sales by destination.

The Kingdom is also responsible for a host of other human rights violations. It reportedly executed 81 people just days before Boris Johnson’s recent trip to Riyadh, and three on the day he arrived.

A Saudi student at Leeds University who had returned home to the Kingdom for a holiday has recently been sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents.

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The conflict in Yemen began in 2015 and is between Yemeni Government forces, backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthis. In 2019, Britain paused new arms export licences to the country due to a court ruling which found that the Government had acted unlawfully by not assessing the impact of its sale of UK arms to Saudi forces for use in Yemen.

However, following a Government review in July 2020, Britain resumed the sales, saying that while there were some “credible incidents of concern” related to the Saudi forces’ conduct, the UK Government viewed these as “isolated incidents”.

“In line with the Integrated Review’s conclusions, the UK remains committed to its relationship with Saudi Arabia for the long term,” the Government said. “This includes strengthening our existing relationship and exploring new areas of cooperation through increased industrial collaboration.

“The UK continues to be ambitious about the future of relationship and supporting the successful joint programmes that both countries have benefitted from over the past 40 years.”

Iain Overton, executive director of AOAV, also leads the Byline Intelligence Team

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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