By Alistair Smout
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain can once again issue new licences to export arms to Saudi Arabia after complying with a court order, its trade minister said on Tuesday, a move campaigners condemned as "morally bankrupt".
The Court of Appeal last year ruled that Britain broke the law by allowing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia that might have been deployed in the war in Yemen.
The court concluded that Britain's government had erred in law in its decision-making processes on arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, after activists said there was evidence the weapons had been used in violation of human rights statutes.
While the court's decision did not mean Britain had to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia, it did mean it had to pause the granting of new export licences to sell arms to the kingdom - Britain's biggest weapons purchaser.
Trade minister Liz Truss said the government had re-taken those decisions on a "correct legal basis", meaning it could resume issuing licences.
"I have assessed that there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of IHL (International Humanitarian Law)," she said.
The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), which originally brought the legal action and had argued that British weapons were likely to have been used in Yemen in violation of human rights law, condemned the decision.
"This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing," said Andrew Smith of CAAT.
"We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it."
(Additional reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by Elizabeth Piper, William Maclean)