Update 22/10/18: It is now unambiguously clear that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Saudi consulate. The UK government should recall its Ambassador for consultations and also press for joint actions with EU partners including suspending arms sales.
Following a request for comment about Saudi Arabia from a Daily Mail journalist, I am issuing the following statement:
I am a long-standing member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have long had an interest in the Middle East and the Arab world. As do many of my constituents and many people in this country. I have visited Saudi Arabia three times. First with the Defence Select Committee in 2000. Secondly with the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2014. And thirdly with a Delegation of Labour MPs earlier this year. In my latest visit I met senior Government and political leaders, business women and men, academics, students and cultural organisations. I saw the modern city of Riyadh including its shopping malls, where there are many UK retailers, and its parks and museums. I also visited the border city of Najran where I saw homes, a school, a health centre and an electricity power station which had all been damaged by missiles fired into Saudi Arabia from Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is an important country. It is a member of the G20 largest economies in the world. King Salman is the protector of two of the three most important Sunni Muslim religious sites in the world. Mecca and Medina are visited by many thousands of British citizens and millions worldwide on the Haj each year.
Saudi Arabia is a country undergoing rapid economic and societal change. I was struck by how much change there has been in just the last four years since my previous visit. For example the majority of graduates are now women, women can now legally drive, and since January women and children now enthusiastically attend sporting events and football matches.
Yemen has always been one of the poorest countries in the world. Wracked by instability and corruption.
It was ruled for many years by a corrupt dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh who was overthrown following the so called Arab Spring of 2011 and his Deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was elected unopposed to replace him. See the BBC report below:
However a tribal Shia militia called the Houthis exploited the position of the the weak new President and launched an uprising. They seized most of the country. President Hadi had to flee abroad. The Houthi uprising was initially joined by forces loyal to former President Saleh. But he later fell out with the Houthis and they killed him.
The United Nations backed the new President Hadi and in 2015 the Security Council authorised an international coalition of 11 Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to take military action to restore the legitimate government. This has involved intensive ground fighting and bombing of Houthi controlled areas. Large Parts of the country including Aden are now back in government hands. But the Houthis still control the capital Sanaa and most of the key port of Hodeida.
The Houthis are backed by Iran which supplies them with ballistic missiles and other weaponry. Missiles fired from Yemen have hit schools, hospitals, homes and the Riyadh airport in Saudi Arabia.
This is a brutal civil war in which many civilians have had to flee. Tens of thousands have been killed. It is estimated that 22 million people, half the population, are dependent on international humanitarian assistance.
The UN has appointed a British official Martin Griffiths to get a negotiated ceasefire but the Houthis have refused to attend several meetings. Without a ceasefire it is very difficult to get humanitarian aid into all parts of the country.
There are strong calls on the U.K. government to stop supplying arms to Saudi Arabia from many NGOs and others. But even if there was a unilateral U.K. arms embargo it is unlikely to stop the conflict. The USA is the main arms supplier and many other countries will continue to sell arms to Saudi Arabia. Iran will also continue to support the Houthis in what is now seen as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The priority must be to press all sides including Iran and the Houthis as well as the Saudi led coalition and the internationally recognised government to engage with Martin Griffiths and get an effective ceasefire.
The disappearance and assumed killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a matter of great concern. I welcome the joint statement issued by the British French and German Foreign Ministers. Both the Saudi authorities and the Turkish government must reveal all they know about this matter to the United Nations and the international community.