Theresa May has raised “deep concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, following Commons clashes over allegations of British involvement in the kingdom’s conflict.
Mohammed bin Salman posed with Theresa May outside 10 Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon ahead of talks between the pair, following lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
As the 32-year-old prince’s car drew up to Downing Street, protesters thronged the vehicle – with one man arrested for throwing an egg during the protest. Others used the hashtag #SaudiPrinceNotWelcome on social media to express their opposition.
On Yemen, Downing Street said the pair “agreed on the importance of full and unfettered humanitarian and commercial access, including through the ports” adding that a was “ultimately the only way to end the conflict and humanitarian suffering”.
Number 10 said £65bn of what it called “mutual trade and investment opportunities” had been agreed, citing this as a “significant boost for UK prosperity and a clear demonstration of the strong international confidence in our economy” ahead of Brexit.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn earlier prompted a political row by claiming “British military advisers are directing the war” in Yemen.
A Saudi-led coalition has been conducting military operations there in an attempt to reinstate Yemen’s official government after much of the country was seized by Houthi rebels.
The conflict has attracted accusations of breaches of international law amid civilian casualties.
Quizzing Theresa May about the UK-Saudi relationship at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Mr Corbyn added: “It cannot be right that her Government is colluding in what the United Nations says is evidence of war crimes.
“Will the Prime Minister use her meeting today with the Crown Prince to halt the arms supplies and demand an immediate ceasefire in Yemen?”
A spokesman for Mr Corbyn later said he had been referring to the presence of British military personnel to advise on targeting by the Saudi air force attacking the Houthi rebels.
He said: “British military advisers advise the Saudi military on targeting and so there is a direct involvement in the conduct of the war.
“British military personnel are in the operations room where these bombing campaigns are being conducted. They are advising directly on the targeting of infrastructure and operations in Yemen.”
“The spokesman added: “The British Government is colluding with this military campaign and that includes the disastrous humanitarian effects of the aerial operations.”
A spokesman for PM said claims British military advisers are directing the war is “simply not true”.
“The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen,” they said.
“British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen and are not involved in the Saudi targeting and decision-making process.
“We have a long-standing relationship with Saudi Arabia in terms of supporting Saudi compliance with international humanitarian law and in armed forces training.”
Responding to Mr Corbyn in the House of Commons, the PM told the Labour leader she was “concerned about the appalling humanitarian situation in Yemen”.
She highlighted how more than £200m in aid made the UK the third largest humanitarian donor in Yemen.
Mrs May added: “I was pleased when I went to Saudi Arabia in December, I met with the Crown Prince, I raised with him them the need to open the port of Hodeidah to humanitarian and commercial supplies.
“I’m pleased to say Saudi Arabia then did just that. This vindicates the engagement that we have with Saudi Arabia, to be able to sit down with them.
“Their involvement in Yemen came at the request of the legitimate government of the Yemen. It is backed by the United Nations Security Council and, as such, we support it.”
The Prime Minister stressed it is “for all parties in the conflict” to ensure humanitarian aid is able to get to those in need.