Gulf Strategy Unit and War on Want Report October 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the UK's relationship with Persian Gulf states [and the recent report by War on Want].

I recognise that significant concerns have been raised about a number of countries' human rights records and the UK's relationship with them. You raise a number of issues in your letter, firstly that of arms exports licensing.

I agree that we have to ensure our arms exports licensing regime has proper accountability and transparency, and is correctly exercised, including in respect of human rights. In my view, when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committed, British arms sales should be suspended. Ultimately, it is the Government's responsibility to apply its own criteria on arms sales and I appreciate that any perceived failure to do so would seriously undermine Britain in the eyes of the world.

With regards to training, the Opposition has raised the provision of such assistance with the Government on a number of previous occasions when serious human rights concerns have arisen. After such pressure from the Opposition, it was welcome that the Government withdrew from an unacceptable training contract for prisons in Saudi Arabia last year. The Government was pressed further on its cooperation with Saudi Arabia on judicial matters following mass executions in that country early this year. The Opposition also called on the Government to suspend a police training programme with Saudi Arabia this summer after human rights concerns were raised.

The Government announced in its 2016 Strategic Defence and Security Review that it would create a number of new, issue-focused cross-government teams, one of which would be the Gulf Strategy Unit, which you mention. The Government said at that time that the unit would be hosted by the Cabinet Office, and would coordinate UK engagement with the Gulf in order to deliver the National Security Council's "long-term strategy" and "maximise benefits to the UK".

I believe human rights should be at the heart of our foreign policy, and Britain's voice in the world is a reflection of the moral leadership that we demonstrate on human rights. The Foreign Office should continue to make human rights a priority, and I hope the Government will urge others to respect the rule of law and the freedoms and rights that every human being is entitled to.

Thank you for drawing my attention to War on Want's report and for taking the trouble to make me aware of your views on this issue.