Socialist Worker

Labour MPs refuse to oppose civilian bombings in Yemen

by Nick Clark
Issue No. 2527

A house in Yemen destroyed by a Saudi Arabian airstrike

A house in Yemen destroyed by a Saudi Arabian airstrike (Pic: Ibrahem Qasim)

More than 100 Labour MPs refused to back their party’s own motion against bombing civilians in Yemen at a vote in parliament last night, Wednesday.

A total of 102 Labour MPs abstained or failed to turn up to vote on the motion. It had called on the government to suspend support for Saudi Arabia in the war—although it didn’t call for an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians since it launched its intervention in the war in March last year.

A Saudi airstrike on a funeral earlier this month killed at least 140 people—and wounded more than 500.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said Labour would oppose arms sales to Saudi Arabia “when there are credible reports of human rights abuses or war crimes being committed”.

The motion had been proposed by Corbyn along with shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and four other Labour MPs.

Thornberry pointed out that the United Nations had found that 2,067 civilians had been killed in Yemen by the start of July this year. She added that 60 percent of those deaths had been caused by Saudi airstrikes.

But several Labour MPs interrupted her to object to suspending support for Saudi Arabia. John Woodcock led the attack, claiming the criticism of Saudi Arabia made it “very hard for many of us to vote for it”.

He ludicrously suggested that Britain’s support for Saudi Arabia would “create fewer civilian casualties” because it was “focused on training Saudis to be better able to be in compliance with international humanitarian law”.

He earlier accused Labour’s leadership of “dangerous anti-West posturing”.

Labour’s motion fell by 193 votes to 283. The figure suggests that if at least 91 more Labour MPs had voted they could have beaten the Tories.


Yet the rebellion showed most Labour MPs would still rather support British-backed wars in defence of “British interests” than support their own anti-war leader. And it also exposed their hypocrisy.

It comes after many of them condemned Russian and Syrian bombing of civilians in Syria. Many of those same MPS also attacked Corbyn and the left for refusing to line up behind calls to escalate the war with a no-fly zone.

Labour’s motion did not call for Britain to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia—despite the fact that British-made cluster bombs have been found in Yemen.

Cluster bombs are designed to spread out across a large area, injuring or killing civilians. Britain supposedly banned them in 2010.

There were suggestions that leaders of the Unite and GMB unions, which organise workers in the defence industry, were against demanding an end to arms sales.

Unite and the GMB have previously criticised Corbyn for opposing Trident nuclear weapons, arguing that scrapping nukes could cost jobs. John Woodcock is also chair of Labour’s defence committee and is a vicious defender of nuclear weapons.

Corbyn appears to have compromised, with newly appointed-shadow defence secretary Nia Griffith confirming Labour would not oppose Trident renewal.

Previous shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis also said this week that Corbyn “deserves credit” for allowing Labour not to drop its support for Trident.

But the vote last night shows that compromising with the right won’t stop Labour MPs from undermining Corbyn—even if it means letting the Tories win.

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