The British government pursued arms deals with Saudi Arabia in the weeks after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, even as it publicly condemned the murder.
Khashoggi was killed by Saudi officials inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, prompting global condemnation and calls for a re-evaluation of ties with the Kingdom.
As the UK government called for answers over the dissident’s death, British trade officials responsible for arms sales continued to hold high-level meetings with their Saudi counterparts.
A delegation from the Defence and Security Organisation – an office within the Department for International Trade that promotes arms exports for UK companies – travelled to Riyadh on 14 and 22 October, according to a Freedom of Information request obtained by the Mirror newspaper.
The latter of those meetings came on the same day as the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, condemned Khashoggi’s killing “in the strongest possible terms” in a speech to parliament.
“Whilst we will be thoughtful and considered in our response, I have also been clear that if the appalling stories we are reading turn out to be true, they are fundamentally incompatible with our values and we will act accordingly,” Mr Hunt said on 22 October.
The foreign secretary made a point of announcing the cancellation of a planned visit to Riyadh by the trade secretary, Liam Fox. However, he did not disclose that meetings over arms sales were still taking place.
Since the Yemen war began, the UK has licensed £4.7bn worth of weapons to Saudi forces, making it by far the largest buyer of UK arms. Khashoggi’s killing brought new pressure on the British government to reassess its ties to Saudi Arabia, after Germany and Norway halted all future arms sales to Riyadh.