UK working to clear new arms export licenses to Saudi and allies, top official says

Lt Gen Sir John Lorimer, senior defence adviser to the Middle East, says government is appealing recent court order

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - June 25, 2019: HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces (R), receives Lieutenant General Sir John Lorimer, UK’s Defence Senior Advisor to the Middle East (C). 

( Mohamed Al Hammadi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )
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The British government wants to expedite decisions on new licences for arms export to Saudi Arabia and its allies despite an adverse court order, a top defence official said.

"Our intention is to take new export licensing decisions as soon as we can put in place the right processes," Lieutenant General Sir John Lorimer, Britain's senior defence adviser to the Middle East who recently visited the UAE, told the state news agency, Wam, in an interview.

"The UK government has always taken its export control obligations very seriously and we seek to address this matter as soon as possible, in accordance with our legal obligations," Lt Gen Lorimer said.

The UK Court of Appeal ruled on June 20 that the British arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which could be deployed by the Arab Coalition to restore the legitimate government in Yemen, were "unlawful", a decision Lt Gen Lorimer described as disappointing.

"The UK is disappointed with the recent decision, and we are appealing the outcome. Our commitment to the security of the Gulf remains unchanged. This judgment does not immediately affect existing export licences, which will continue to be valid," he said.

"However, we cannot currently grant new licences for Saudi Arabia and Coalition partners for items that might be used in the conflict in Yemen, while we consider the implications of the judgment."

Lt Gen Lorimer, who studied Arabic and Islamic Studies at Cambridge University from 1985 to 1988, has served as Britain's senior defence adviser to the Middle East since January 2018. He previously served as Chief of Joint Operations from October 2014 until June 2017, heading Britain's Permanent Joint Headquarters that plans and controls joint and multinational military operations abroad. His senior overseas army postings include Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The commitment of the UK to the security of Saudi Arabia and the stability of the region remains unchanged," Lt Gen Lorimer said. "The UK’s security is intertwined with that of the Middle East; our values require us to play our part in making a constructive difference, and our unique links mean that we have the ability to do so."

The UK continues to lead a sustained diplomatic campaign to support the UN-led peace process to resolve the conflict in Yemen, he affirmed.

"We have used our diplomatic reach to bring those fighting together around the table to find a political solution. We need the international community to do the same. We are also working to provide humanitarian assistance to Yemen," he said.

"A UN-backed peace process is the only way we will achieve lasting peace, security and stability in Yemen and everyone has to play their part."

Lt Gen Lorimer, who visited the UAE for third this year in June, praised the UAE Armed Forces as "one of the most experienced and capable militaries in the region".

"It is an honour for the UK to have such a strong and longstanding relationship with the UAE Army," he said.

"We continue to support a regular programme of training, advice and exercises, in line with mutual development objectives. The UK remains committed to promoting regional stability and security through our work with the UAE Armed Forces."

He said during his last visit that "the longstanding friendship between the UAE and the UK runs deeper than defence engagement and trust remains critical to our success".

The UK remains strongly committed to working with all regional partners to develop modern, capable and agile armed forces. "In support of this objective, we hosted a meeting of military leaders from across the region on July 4 [in the UK]," Lt Gen Lorimer said.

"This forum provides a means for peers to exchange their ideas and work more closely together on a shared transformation journey, in an ever-changing world."

The forum was a follow-up to the meeting of the GCC, Egypt and Jordan defence chiefs, hosted by the UK Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter in Oman last November, Lt Gen Lorimer said.