LONDON: The London High Court threw out an attempt to halt UK military sales worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia, in a case brought by an anti-arms group.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) had asked the court for an order to block export licenses for British-made military exports to the Kingdom, which it claimed had been used in Yemen in breach of human rights law.
The judges found that the UK secretary of state for international trade was “rationally entitled to conclude” that the Saudi Arabia-backed coalition was not deliberately targeting civilians.
The 58-page judgment handed down by Lord Justice Burnett and Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave follows three days of hearings in February.
In their judgment, the pair said: “Saudi Arabia has been and remains genuinely committed to compliance with international humanitarian law.”
The court, which heard much of the government’s case in hearings closed to the media and public, said there had been extensive political and military engagement with Saudi Arabia regarding the conduct of operations in Yemen.
Referring to the closed material submitted by the government, the judges said, “The advantage of the closed material procedure is that we have had full access to all the facts and materials relied upon by the secretary of state.”
Saudi Arabia has been backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government following the outbreak of a civil war in the country in 2015.
The court decision helped to lift shares in the UK’s BAE Systems, Europe’s largest defense contractor, which rose 2 percent to 630 pence.
Sales to Saudi Arabia accounted for more than a fifth of the FTSE 100-listed company’s total revenues last year.
Thousands of UK defense-industry jobs depend on Saudi arms exports, while BAE Systems also employs thousands of workers in the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is critical for UK defense exports,” said Ben Moore, an analyst with IHS Jane’s, who estimates that there are some $8.6 billion in booked orders destined for the Kingdom from the UK over the next decade.
Saudi Arabia is the biggest export customer for the Eurofighter combat aircraft and also buys a range of other military equipment from the UK including training aircraft and radar systems.
The closely watched case comes as Britain prepares to leave the EU and is seeking to boost defense industry exports in key markets that include Saudi Arabia.
Defense spending across the Middle East and North Africa is expected to rise by about 1.4 percent to $165 billion this year according to IHS Jane’s.
A UK government spokesperson said: “We welcome this judgment, which underscores the fact that the UK operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.
“We will continue to keep our defense exports under careful review to ensure they meet the rigorous standards of the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”
Rosa Curling, a lawyer for CAAT, described the judgment as “very disappointing.”
“Our client has put in an immediate application to appeal which we hope will be granted,” she said.