UK attacks Germany over Saudi arms ban

Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s foreign secretary, strongly attacked Germany over the arms embargo it imposed on Saudi Arabia following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it was damaging the British defence industry.

Mr Hunt said in a letter to his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, dated February 7 that he was deeply concerned about the effects of the halt of exports on the British and European arms industry and its consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments, according to a report by the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

The Financial Times reported on Sunday that there were growing concerns in London that the German ban could prevent BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest defence company, from supplying parts for the Saudis’ Eurofighter planes.

The unilateral German move has also caused irritation in Paris because it stopped France from selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia that was developed jointly, or shipping arms that contained German parts.

Germany and France are in talks on a new defence export agreement, which is partly designed to ease the tensions between the two allies over arms sales and remove what has emerged as a big obstacle to costly plans for joint weapons systems. 

Mr Hunt, who is due to meet Mr Maas in Berlin on Wednesday, said the German decision meant British companies were unable to fulfil their Saudi contracts, citing the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets as examples. Both contain German components that are affected by the export stop.

He said in the letter, cited by Spiegel, that the Saudi government had already threatened BAE with damages claims for breach of contract. He added that 500 more BAE suppliers were potentially affected.

BAE is the lead industrial partner for the pan-European Eurofighter consortium in Saudi Arabia and, as such, is responsible for ensuring the maintenance and support of the kingdom’s Typhoon jets.

Mr Hunt said the British government was under pressure to resolve the problem because it played such a key role in the Saudi deal with BAE. The 72 Eurofighter Typhoons were acquired by Saudi Arabia from BAE in 2007 under a government-to-government contract between the kingdom and Britain.

Germany imposed the embargo in the autumn of 2018 after Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The measure affects not only German products but German parts installed abroad.

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, hinted at the problem in her speech to the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, saying that without a “common arms export culture”, Europe would “struggle to develop joint weapons systems”.

“You cannot talk about a European army and . . . about developing weapons together if you’re not prepared to pursue a common arms export policy,” she said.

Mr Hunt said it was essential for Germany to exclude immediately big European defence projects such as the Eurofighter and Tornado from the anti-Saudi measure, or Berlin would risk a loss of faith in its credibility as a partner.

He said the export ban had also affected the supply of Meteor long-range air-to-air missiles, not only to Saudi Arabia but also to Germany’s European partners. The Meteor is assembled by MBDA, a joint venture of Airbus, BAE Systems and Leonardo, while its propulsion system and warheads are manufactured in Germany.

Mr Hunt said he had been told by the UK defence ministry that the supply of 260 Meteor missiles to the Royal Air Force had been delayed, as had deliveries to France, Spain, Italy and Sweden. Such delays had operational consequences, including for those countries’ ability to fulfil their Nato obligations, he wrote.

British officials acknowledged the existence of the letter to Mr Maas, but declined further comment. The German foreign ministry declined to comment.


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