Britain 'urges Germany to reconsider Saudi arms block'

Foreign minister Jeremy Hunt reportedly lobbied his German counterpart in a private letter

Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt gives a speech at the Konrad-Adenauer foundation in Berlin on February 20, 2019. / AFP / Odd ANDERSEN
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Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt has reportedly urged Germany to reconsider its policy of banning arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Hunt is visiting Berlin on Wednesday amid media reports that he wrote a private letter to his German counterpart Heiko Maas about the ban.

“I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments,” Mr Hunt reportedly wrote in the letter, seen by German weekly magazine Der Spiegel.

Germany said it would reject future arms export licences to Saudi Arabia last November citing the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi coalition forces’ continued involvement in the war in Yemen.

While German arms sales account for under 2 per cent of Riyadh’s total arms imports, Germany provides component parts for British export contracts to Saudi Arabia. Britain, a major arms exporter to Saudi Arabia, would need German parts to fulfil the proposed £10 billion (Dh47.9 billion) arms deal, which would provide Riyadh with 48 new Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.

Mr Hunt reportedly wrote in the letter that British defence firms would not be able to fulfil several Saudi contracts, including for Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets.

The British foreign minister also warned that the move would cost German defence firms 2.3 billion euros in revenues by 2026.

Last week, the German head of Airbus, whose subsidiary MBDA builds specialist components for the Eurofighter, warned that interference from policy makers was driving management “crazy”.

“This is escalating very much at the moment," Tom Enders said at the Munich Security Conference. "It just so happens that the Germans think that only they have a responsible arms export policy.”

Germany's defence minister appeared to contradict Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has suggested the arms block did not come quickly enough, in comments made at the conference.

"We Germans should not pretend that we are more moral than France or more politically far-sighted than Britain in terms of human rights policy," Ursula von der Leyen told the conference on Friday.

Responding to the reports of the lobbying from Mr Hunt, Britain’s Foreign Office said it would not comment on the contents of a private letter.

“The UK’s priority is to find a sustainable political solution to the Yemen conflict, which is at a critical juncture. We continue to play a leading role in diplomatic efforts, supporting the UN to bring together key Yemeni and international actors to deliver a peaceful solution,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.

“The UK is committed to a strong and collaborative European defence industry. We take our arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously and all export licence applications for Saudi Arabia are assessed rigorously against UK and EU Arms Export Licencing Criteria.”