Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Government of “colluding” in war crimes by Saudi forces engaged in Yemen’s bitter civil war.
As Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began a three-day visit to the UK, the Labour leader said British military personnel were “directing” Saudi military operations responsible for large-scale civilian casualties.
During heated exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, he called on Theresa May to halt British arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to demand an immediate ceasefire in Yemen.
A spokesman for the Labour leader said he had been referring to the presence of British military personnel to advise on targeting by the Saudi air force attacking the Houthi rebels.
He said that if their role was – as the Government has stated – to prevent collateral damage, they had proved to be a “disastrous failure”.
In the Commons, Mrs May strongly defended the UK’s “historic” ties with the Saudis, saying they had “saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country” – a reference to UK-Saudi counter-terror co-operation.
However Mr Corbyn said a “humanitarian disaster” was taking place in Yemen as a result of the Saudi-led aerial bombing campaign and its blockade of Yemeni ports.
“Germany has suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia but British arms sales have sharply increased and British military advisers are directing the war,” he said.
“It cannot be right that her Government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes.”
Mr Corbyn’s spokesman told reporters: “British military advisers advise the Saudi military on targeting and so there is a direct involvement in the conduct of the war.
“British military personnel are in the operations room where these bombing campaigns are being conducted. They are advising directly on the targeting of infrastructure and operations in Yemen.
“If they are trying to avoid civilian casualties, it has been a disastrous failure since the civilian casualties have been extremely high and the targeting of schools and hospitals in Yemen by the Saudi air force is on a very large scale.
“There is clearly evidence of war crimes having been carried out in Yemen by the Saudi air force. Targeting of civilian infrastructure, hospitals and schools – which has happened on a large scale in Yemen – is a war crime. It is essential that stops.
“The British Government is colluding with this military campaign and that includes the disastrous humanitarian effects of the aerial operations.”
Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “The suggestion that British military advisers are directing the war is simply not true.
“The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen. British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen and are not involved in the Saudi targeting and decision-making process.
“We have a long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia in terms of supporting Saudi compliance with international humanitarian law and in armed forces training.”