Theresa May and her ministers have been “colluding” with Saudi Arabia in commiting war crimes against women and children in Yemen, Jeremy Corbyn has declared.
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman began a three-day trip to London on Wednesday, and No.10 revealed that he and May had agreed £65bn in new trade deals to help boost Britain post-Brexit.
But the Labour leader hit out in Prime Minister’s Question Time as he urged the PM to demand an immediate ceasefire in the civil war in the Gulf state.
In his most outspoken remarks yet on the conflict, Corbyn said that “British military advisers are directing war” in the country.
After PMQs, his aides claimed UK personnel had helped to “target” schools and hospitals in Saudi bombing raids.
Corbyn’s spokesman added that ministers should be held “accountable” for the “very large numbers of children” killed and injured by the air strikes against Yemeni rebels.
A UN report last year claimed that 1340 child victims of the conflict wwere recorded in 2016 in Yemen, at least 683 (51%) are the result of bombing raids carried out by Riyadh jets.
Since January 2015, Yemen has been ravaged by a bloody civil war with Saudi Arabia backing the country’s Sunni elites and Iran supporting the Shia Houthi rebels. To date, more than 8,000 people have died.
Asked by HuffPost if the Labour leader was saying that British servicemen and women should be prosecuted for war crimes, his spokesman said it was the politicians who should be made responsible.
“The British Government has responsibility for what is taking place in its support for the Saudi campaign – it’s British ministers who should be held accountable for that.”
And asked if the PM had ‘blood on her hands’, the spokesman replied: “This Government is responsible for the decisions that are being taken to support this military campaign and support this aerial bombing campaign of Yemen, and has directed British military personal to take part in advising the targeting of aerial operations in Yemen.
“The consequence of that has been significant and extensive of targeting of civilian infrastructure and very large numbers of civilian casualties, including very large numbers of children.
“What Jeremy is talking about is the direct advice that is being given in the operations rooms by British military personnel about aerial targeting… It’s the government that has deployed these personnel
“There clearly is evidence of war crimes having being carried out in Yemen by the Saudi air force. Targeting of civilian infrastructure, hospitals and schools, which has happened on a large scale. The British government is colluding with this campaign.”
Earlier, Corbyn had confronted May in the Commons over the visit of the Crown Prince, urging her to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and work internationally to get a ceasefire in the conflict.
The Labour leader said that 600,000 children in Yemen had cholera “because of the Saudi-led bombing campaign and the blockade”, and asked why British arms sales to Saudi Arabia had “sharply increased”.
“Germany has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia but British arms sales have sharply increased, and British military advisers are directing war,” he said.
“It cannot be right that her government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes. Will you use your meeting today with the crown prince to halt the arms supplies and demand an immediate ceasefire in Yemen?”
May replied that the UK’s intelligence links with the Saudis had saved potentially hundreds of lives from terror attacks at home, and insisted she had raised “concerns” about the humanitarian situation in Yemen.
But she insisted that the Saudis were right to taken military action. “Their involvement in Yemen came at the request of the legitimate government of the Yemen, it is backed by the United Nations Security Council and as such we support it,” she said.
May even defended the Saudis’ response to claims of war crimes. “Where there are allegations that activity has taken place that is not in line with international humanitarian law, they investigate that and they learn the lessons from it.”
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt also hit back at Corbyn’s claims about British service personnel working with the Saudis, saying: “It’s just not true that they are directing the war in Yemen.
“They have given advice in relation to how targeting is done, to make sure that civilians are not involved.”
Downing Street announced on Wednesday night that following a meeting between May and the Crown Prince, the two countries had agreed on a major new economic deal.
“The meeting agreed a landmark ambition for around £65bn of mutual trade and investment opportunities over the coming years, including direct investment in the UK and new Saudi public procurement with UK companies,” a spokesman said.
“This is a significant boost for UK prosperity and a clear demonstration of the strong international confidence in our economy as we prepare to leave the European Union.”
The UK and Saudi Arabia also agreed a new ‘education partnership’ to help get more women into education, with British experts hired to ‘embed gender equality’.
No.10 said: “The Prime Minister welcomed recent reforms in Saudi Arabia, including on women attending sporting events and the cinema, and being legally able to drive from June.
“The Prime Minister and Crown Prince agreed that we should continue working together to explore ways the UK can support Saudi Arabia to progress and intensify these reforms, particularly on women’s rights, and on universal human rights, where the Prime Minister noted our particular concerns in the case of Raif Badawi.”
Labour, the Lib Dems and human rights campaigners have heavily criticised the way May has “rolled out the red carpet” for the Crown Prince, with lunch with the Queen and dinner with Prince Charles and Prince William lined up on Wednesday.
In the UK for his first trip to a Western capital since taking over the reins, he has a meeting with the PM in her Chequers country home on Thursday and met a clutch of senior Cabinet ministers in Downing Street.