On the 27th of October, Emily Thornberry, Shadow Foreign Secretary, put forward a bill which could have prevented further arms supplies reaching the Saudis from the UK. The exact wording read;
'I beg to move that this House supports efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen, and notes that the country is now on the brink of famine; condemns the reported bombings of civilian areas that have exacerbated this crisis; believes that a full independent UN-led investigation must be established into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen; and calls on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it has been determined whether they have been responsible for any such violations.’
She introduced the bill by speaking of dashed hopes when the 72 hour cease-fire previously negotiated to allow aid into the region did not lead to a further cessation of hostilities. She mentioned the use of cluster bombs and the fact that Yemen is now falling prey to cholera. She warned that we are facing the possible destruction of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people.
Keith Vaz claimed that the efforts of the Foreign Secretary, John Kerry and the Saudi Foreign Minister were vital in arranging the ceasefire and that it was necessary that the UK & US governments were involved in negotiating long term peace. After a brief debate about the role of the UN, Emily Thornberry pressed on with this...
‘In view of all these grave concerns and dire consequences, the debate is about whether Britain should continue to support the Saudi forces leading one side of the conflict. The shadow Secretary of State for International Development, my Hon. Friend Kate Osamor will later address the humanitarian consequences in detail, but I want to focus on concerns about the way in which the conflict has been conducted and whether those concerns are being taken seriously by the Government or indeed properly investigated.’
It is quite clear that at this point she is referring to the supply of arms and possibly troops to the Saudi Forces leading one side of the conflict. She went on to illustrate the importance of her point with this comment;
‘Let us look at the facts. In August, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report on the conflict in Yemen, which stated that between 1st July 2015 and 1st July 2016, 2,067 civilians had been killed in that conflict. On the basis of careful investigation of each incident, it said that 60% of those deaths - as I have said - had been caused by Saudi airstrikes. The report concluded - and this is important - '"In several of the…documented attacks, we have been unable to identify the presence of possible military objectives."'
In September, the independent Yemen data project went further. It examined more than 8,600 airstrikes that had been conducted between the start of the conflict and the end of August 2016, and found that 3,158 of them had struck civilian sites, while a further 1,882 had struck sites of undetermined use.
John Woodcock tried to get Thornberry to give way at this point. She refused and he kept pressing her by saying he wanted to speak about that specific point. In fact, during her introduction, Crispin Blunt, Chair of Foreign affairs, interrupted and she gave way. He merely questioned her use of data. Emily Thornberry went on to illustrate a more provable piece of data which questioned whether the Saudis had breached the Geneva convention;
‘There is evidence of a further disturbing trend in the way in which the conflict is being conducted. According to Yemen expert and London School of Economics professor Martha Mundy, detailed examination of Government agricultural statistics has revealed hundreds of cases in which farms, livestock, water, infrastructure, food stores and markets were targeted by Saudi airstrikes. Her analysis suggests that the extent of the bombing in rural areas where there is little activity besides farming is clear evidence that Yemen’s agricultural sector is being deliberately targeted. Some Members will doubtless argue that what was effectively a blockade imposed on Yemen in 2015 has helped to exacerbate the starvation crisis that we are seeing today, but Saudi Arabia did at least claim some UN mandate for that action. There is no UN mandate for the destruction of Yemen’s agricultural sector, which, if it is indeed deliberate and targeted, represents a clear breach of the Geneva convention.’
At this point there was so much noise in the house that Emily Thornberry had trouble hearing Brendan O’Hara, SNP, as he backed her argument concerning the stupidity of leaving all the fatality investigations to the Saudis themselves.
John Woodcock then asked Emily Thornberry why she had included taking away support for the Saudis in this motion. He said that support offered was in the training sector and would help reduce casualties. She replied that it was placing all our trust in the honesty of the Saudis. She backed up her argument and placed the emphasis on the sale of arms with this comment;
'At present, we are unclear—perhaps the Government will tell us definitively today—whether the weapons and planes sold to Saudi Arabia today will be used in Yemen tomorrow. Until we have an answer to that question, it is impossible for us to say what type of support we will be giving to the coalition. Should that support include the sale of arms that could being used in Yemen next month?'
Gerald Howarth, Conservative, of course, was much more interested in the UK losing money and put this in a way that we may believe he is trying to protect jobs;
‘Will she explain her proposal to the thousands of people across the country who support our allies in the region? Does it mean, for example, that she is in favour of suspending all spares for the aircraft operated by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the other members of the coalition? Does it mean that she wants to withdraw the advice given by skilled British employees that helps our Saudi friends? If that is what she means, she is doing great damage to the British national interest.’
Emily Thornberry pointed out what was more important 'is whether those weapons might be used in a commission of a serious breach of international humanitarian law.'
Julian Brazier, Conservative, was more concerned about the effect refusing to sell weapons would have on our ‘friendship’ with the Saudis;
‘I urge her to think for a moment about the impact that such a suspension would have on our credibility as an ally in this dangerous, fractured part of the world. There is a great difference between saying that civilians have been killed because terrorists are perhaps sheltering around what were civilian facilities and actually alleging that there is a deliberate programme of mass slaughter.’
Many people wanted to speak at this stage but Emily Thornberry stuck it out and made her point much more urgently;
‘Today’s motion gives us an opportunity to send the opposite message to the world: to show that we hold all countries, friend or foe, to the same high standards that we aspire to ourselves, and that although Saudi Arabia will remain a valued strategic, security and economic ally, our support for its forces in Yemen must be suspended until the alleged violations of international humanitarian law in that conflict have been fully and independently investigated, and until the children of Yemen have received the humanitarian aid they so desperately need. That is the right message to send to the rest of the world and that is the message that reflects who we are as a country. I hope that it is the message this House will vote to send today.’
All the socialists in the house should, at this point, have been totally convinced that this bill had to be voted through. There should have been no abstentions for anything other than illness. At this stage in the debate, the shadow foreign secretary had already made a very convincing argument that had SNP backing.
Keith Vaz, an MP with many links in the Yemen, gratefully took credit for achieving a 3 day ceasefire. Yet, for reasons still not explained He ABSTAINED from a decision on this bill!
Alistair Burt, Conservative, spoke in depth concerning the role of the Houthi attacks and the fact that this was the target that our weapons were aiding the Saudis to attack. This seems to have caused ‘confusion’ for the likes of Keith Vaz and others who insisted withdrawing weapon sales to Saudi would not go any way to solve the problem. Alistair Burt claimed;
‘We want to see a ceasefire as quickly as possible, but I do not think that by withdrawing our support from one of the parties that can actually make that happen and by giving false hope to others to continue the conflict, we would be doing our best for the people of Yemen.’
Kevan Jones, Labour, undermined Emily Thornberry, shadow secretary of his OWN party, with these words;
‘However, I cannot support the motion, because my Hon. Friend Emily Thornberry, concentrated on only part of the story, which she does quite a lot when it comes to this conflict. She condemned the actions of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but completely ignored what is being done by the Houthis, and the Iranian-backed weapons that are being taken into Yemen to fuel the conflict and help the Iranians to destabilise the region.’
Once again, missing the point that UK made arms are being sold to the Saudis who are using them in ways that violate the Geneva convention! Kevan Jones went on to further undermine his colleague with these words;
‘I accept that there are people, in the House and elsewhere, who take a moral stance against either the manufacture or the export of arms. Do I respect those people? Yes, I do, but I do not agree with them. I take what is perhaps, in the Labour party, the rather traditional view that we should be able to manufacture weapons, and that individual countries should be allowed to protect themselves when that is possible. I am proud that our legislation on arms exports was one of the achievements of the last Labour Government. The Export Control Act 2002 was the first such legislation for 50 years. We have a robust system in this country, and we should not shy away from it.’
His well-pleased and conservative friend, Gerald Howarth backed Jones up thus;
‘As we heard from Mr Jones — and I agreed with everything that he said — it is important for us to understand that the United Kingdom has enjoyed a very long and mutually beneficial relationship with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There have been occasional differences between us, but those are to be found in any relationship.’
This conservative went on to describe indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen in this way.
‘We all make mistakes’
Toby Perkins, Labour, jokingly made his position clear;
‘I am sad to say that I will be unable to back the motion my Hon. Friend Emily Thornberry has introduced today. I think this is the first time I have not supported an Opposition day motion, and God knows I have backed some rubbish — only joking. There is much in the motion that I agree with, but I fear it is ultimately undermined by the abandonment of our commitment to the UN Security Council resolution, and I fear that while it may make us feel better, it will not make the situation on the ground better.'
'The situation in Yemen is appalling and is quickly becoming the greatest humanitarian challenge stalking the planet in what is a most difficult time. My right hon. Friend Keith Vaz spoke movingly about the scale of the human catastrophe in Yemen and I agree with him that it is a shame that we are seeking to divide the House on this issue.’
Joking AND accusing Thornberry of ‘seeking to divide the house’! He waffled on further about how the biggest threat to the people of the Yemen are the Houthis and how Gerald Howarth had been right about that.
All in all, the floor was generally taken up with the Conservatives and the SNP. Most of the few Labour contributors were against the bill. Many more just didn’t attend. I have only picked out highlights I thought were important as the debate was quite lengthy and some of the information was distressing but to view it further, follow the link;
Naturally, it hit the headlines of government-controlled media that Jeremy Corbyn had been undermined by many of his MPs choosing to abstain from voting on this bill. Hansard only gives a pretty vague picture of what exactly is going on. However, it does tell you the Ayes and the Noes.
The pairing system confuses things when it comes to weeding out the genuine reasons for non-voting and it seems many MPs are happy to hide behind that.
A list of Labour Abstainees was published on social media and I emailed every one of them. To date, three working days and a weekend after the email was sent out, I have only received 9 replies.
I also received from many, but not all, automatic replies – mostly stating that the particular MP would not entertain enquiries from anyone other than a constituent who provided their full name and address. When a friend personally asked Jeremy Corbyn about MPs dealing with questions of national interest from people outside their own constituency, he, of course, replied that they should respond. I have long ago reached and passed the point where I believe many Labour MPs follow procedures laid down by their leader!
I found that the Labour MPs with a genuine reason not to be in the house for this vote tended to answer me first;
Paul Flynn MP
‘Many thanks for your email. My absence was due to my duties as a Council of Europe delegate and nothing whatsoever to do with the merits of the debate or vote.
I am wholly against divisive tactics of those who abstain to undermine the party Front Bench line.'
Rosie Cooper MP,
'Thank you for your email. I can confirm that the reason Rosie wasn't able to attend is because she is recovering from a knee replacement surgery. On medical advice she is unable to travel to London by car or train. This was an authorised absence, and she was paired with a Conservative MP who didn't vote either - hence, the outcome shouldn't have been affected.'
Kate Hoey MP
'Thanks. If you look at my tweets you will see I was chairing a long standin big meeting at the RGS on Zimbabwe a country in need of support against their dictatorship. I was paired so my vote would have made no difference.'
Andrew Gwynne MP
'I didn't. I was in official business at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in Geneva and had been paired with a Conservative MP by the Opposition Whips' Office.'
Siobhain McDonagh MP
'Thank you for your email. I have been granted leave of absence from the House of Commons for 10 days by the Chief Whip and us such my absence would have been paired with a Conservative MP.'
Gill Furniss MP
'Thank you for contacting me. I was granted an authorised absence by the whips and paired with a member from another party as is usual under the circumstances. This means that the vote is negated and cannot alter the outcome.'
Authorised absences may be granted for illness, attending funerals, family emergencies, transport delays preventing one from arriving in time to vote or parliamentary business away from the estate.
I have always supported the Yemen community and did indeed ask a question in the house regarding the behaviour of Saudi Arabia just a couple of weeks ago.
I assure you had I been able to be present I would have wholeheartedly supported the motion.'
One was very sad and I apologised for contacting her.....
Rosena Allin-Khan MP
'I was in hospital with my sick baby girl. She was taken ill on Tuesday night and i was given an authorised absence from the leaders office. I could not leave her and missed all votes including the Yemen one. I care very deeply about the issue and spoke in the adjournment debate last week.'
One was condescending;
Judith Cummins MP
'For the record please check Hansard, as I am a Labour Whip and was a teller for the yes vote. It is what whips do. I would advise you to perhaps use a credible source next time.'
Rob Marris MP wrongly accused me of cutting and pasting the email as I had shared it online for others to use. He went into an argument I highlighted already that the Houthis were, in fact, the real problem. He claimed that this wasn’t about arms sales and held a lengthy email conversation with me where our differences definitely came to the core when he questioned why I believed Tony Blair should be brought to justice for war crime. It became quite clear where his allegiances lie in his first email to me.
‘I acknowledge receipt of your pro forma e-mail. I certainly did abstain in the Opposition motion on Wednesday 26 October because, whilst there were good parts of that motion, there is also one very bad part. That motion read: “That this House supports efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities and provide humanitarian relief in Yemen, and notes that the country is now on the brink of famine; condemns the reported bombings of civilian areas that have exacerbated this crisis; believes that a full independent UN-led investigation must be established into alleged violations of international humanitarian law in the conflict in Yemen; and calls on the Government to suspend its support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces in Yemen until it has been determined whether they have been responsible for any such violations.
There is a very bloody civil war going on in Yemen, started by the Houthis. The Houthis are officially called Ansar Allah ("Supporters of Allah"). It is a fundamentalist, ultra-conservative, and religious-political movement that emerged in northern Yemen in the 1990s. Their slogan is "God is great, death to the USA, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam".
In 2015 Houthis tried to overthrow the government of elected President Mansour Hadi. Civil war has ensued. Houthis have gained control of most of the north part of Yemen's territory, and are resisting the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia which is seeking to overturn Houthi control of the north part of Yemen, and restore the government.
I am no fan of Saudi Arabia, which is a repressive regime. I support a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but the Opposition motion did not include that demand. What it did include was a demand to suspend support for the country which, on behalf of the elected President, is leading the fight against some very nasty people. I do not support withdrawal of that support in Yemen. Nor does the Yemeni-born MP Keith Vaz, with whom I discussed the issue beforehand, and who also abstained.
I would not hesitate to do the same again because (a) I am not a pacifist; and (b) sometimes one has to choose between the lesser of two evils, that being one of the hard choices which I have been elected to make.’
Rob Marris's second email read;
'Thanks. If yours was not a pro forma e-mail, I must warn you that someone had borrowed the contents and e-mailed them to me before you did!
No, backbench MPs do not get a chance to suggest refinements to wording.
Lesser of two evils: yes, Saudi forces are need in Yemen.
Keith Vaz did put forward an amendment, but it was not selected. See Hansard.
No, your interpretation of the key phrase is not correct. We’re talking Parliament here. Motions are precise. If the Labour front bench had wanted to include a cessation of arms to Saudi Arabia, such words would have been in the motion. For whatever reason, they were deliberately left out. Sad, but true. Again, I suggest that you read the debate.
Alas, there is not a “massive” increase in interest in politics – see voter turnout figures.
Continuing to assert that the war in Iraq in 2003 was illegal is glib and wrong. Had it been, there would by now have been criminal charges laid, if not convictions. There have been none.'
Despite the effort Rob put in and putting aside the fact that he had tried to ‘educate’ me and had bothered to write so much, he did leave me wondering what kind of people MPs really are and what makes them think they have the right to patronise us!
The excuse that the Saudis are really aiming at the Houthis is questionable when you consider all of the civilian casualties in Yemen.
All the other MPs, including my own, Helen Jones, have either left it at the acknowledgement email or ignored my email completely. One thing is for sure, only THIRTY-SIX conservative MPs were paired with Labour ones. That leaves 65+ MPs who don’t really care what the electorate or their own Labour members think about them. If they want to abstain, they will. They will give no reason and will answer to no one! Even if it de-stabilizes Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership team. Their real motives DEFINITELY have to be questioned.
John Woodcock ACTIVELY abstained along with Rob Marris, mentioned above. He wrote on LabourList that it was 'wrongheaded in the extreme to go on to call for the UK government to withdraw its support for the Saudi-led military coalition seeking to defend the Yemeni government’. Once again, John Woodcock has decided he knows far more than Jeremy Corbyn and the leadership team. He even praised Tory members who were speaking against this bill. He disguised this open act of defiance by seeming to defend the support given to the Saudis as a major aid towards training them, with no mention of the arms we also supply them with.
The vote was against the bill, 283 to 193 with many foreign newspapers describing this as an act of defiance by dissident Labour MPs against Jeremy Corbyn. Despite the fact that one would expect mainstream media to highlight any division, it has to be said that to hear so-called socialist MPs actively praising the views of conservatives like Boris Johnson was a very bitter pill to swallow for real socialists. Johnson has strongly opposed the need for an outside investigation of the Saudis, despite all the civilian casualties. He has fiercely defended their right to conduct their own investigation. As if to attempt to strengthen that argument, Tobias Ellwood, Johnson’s deputy, revealed that a senior Saudi officer would likely soon be facing a court martial for failing to follow procedure ahead of the funeral bombing in Sanaa earlier this month. That can be taken two ways.
So, it seems that some Labour MPs are following Boris Johnson and Tobias Ellwood in believing that it is only the Houthis who are slaughtering their own in the Yemen. They seem to believe that the ‘accidental bombings’ by the Saudis with weaponry created in OUR country are unfortunate but unavoidable. In January, Ellwood told MPs in the house;
“We are aware that the Houthis, who are very media-savvy in such a situation, are using their own artillery pieces deliberately, targeting individual areas where the people are not loyal to them, to give the impression that there have been air attacks.”
When asked for evidence, it was declined on the basis of ‘security’. In fact, the more sceptical are now suggesting that the desperate defiance of the Conservatives to make sure there is no independent enquiry into ‘mistakes’ in Yemen could be because they may, in fact, be facing a war crimes enquiry. It is more or less certain that the Geneva Convention has been breached, at the least.
In September, Britain was accused by Human Rights Watch among other activist groups, of blocking an independent investigation into Saudi war crimes. Also, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade is legally challenging UK rights to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. This judicial review is expected next year.
Furthermore, International treaties to which the UK are a signatory, commitments under EU rules and the UK’s own regulations state that arms export licences cannot be granted if there is a risk that weapons will be used in a ‘serious violation of international humanitarian law’. Parliament is well aware that there is more than just a ‘risk’ of this in Yemen!
The MPs who voted against this bill, not just the Tory government, are all implicated in breaching these laws. Labour’s motion was defeated by 90 votes. 90 Labour MPs abstained (excluding absence for serious illnesses etc.). Labour could have carried the motion by 8 votes.
So called socialist MPs helped a conservative government to defeat their own Labour bill to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to demand an independent investigation into Saudi activity in Yemen. Shocking!
Many of the abstainers have given no reason for their decision. Many of the abstainers opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership AND many of the abstainers have, in recent times, attended opulent dinner parties thrown by arms companies.
It is clear that some Labour MPs have views that are far closer to Conservative ones. It is clear that they are not interested in liasing with their CLP members, let alone the electorate in their constituencies to see if their views differ.
How then, can these MPs be seen to be representing the people who voted for them? Many are in safe Labour seats and have been voted in as Labour Party MPs despite expressing views more in line with the Conservative Party. The reading of this bill in Parliament has shone a glaring spotlight on MPs who jeopardise Labour's chances of being elected in the next General Election.
These closet Tories need to be rooted out and forced to admit that they have few socialist principles and have been elected to their seats by pure deception.