A factory supplying fighter jet parts to the Saudi air force to bomb Yemen has not been inspected since April 2017, meaning the UK government failed to meet its own criteria for “regular and thorough” three-yearly checks.

Inspectors last visited the factory run by British arms giant BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire on April 6, 2017, Declassified UK reported on Thursday. The admission was made by Trade Minister Ranil Jayawardena in response to a written parliamentary question on Monday, but went unnoticed by most UK media.

While Jayawardena divulged the date of the last inspection, he refused to clarify its outcome, claiming the results were “commercially sensitive.”

The war in Yemen has been described by the United Nations as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” There have been at least 8,226 air raids by the UK-aided Saudi-led coalition in the country since the last inspection at Warton, which supplies essential Typhoon fighter jet parts – without which Riyadh would not be able to maintain its assault.

Asked by Declassified when the government will get around to conducting the next inspection of the Warton plant, the Department for International Trade did not give any date, but it said inspections could be carried out “remotely” during the Covid-19 pandemic – and added that the three-year rule was only “indicative.” 

According to the government’s own strategic export controls annual report, however, checks are supposed to be conducted every three years at a “minimum,” Declassified said.

It appears the frequency and thoroughness of checks may not be substantial enough to keep arms manufacturers in line. Government data shows that of 459 visits to arms exporters in 2017, 44 percent of companies were deemed either “non-compliant” or “not fully compliant” – yet only one £5,360 penalty was issued.

The missed deadline and seeming lack of urgency on behalf of the government calls into question the frequent promises of meticulous adherence to export control laws and regulations in respect to the Saudi war, campaigners say.

“For five years now we’ve heard the same tired mantra about how rigorous and robust arms controls supposedly are, when these revelations show that nothing could be further from the truth,” Andrew Smith, spokesman for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), told Declassified.

Smith said not only did the revelation raise “serious questions” about whether the government is meeting “minimum obligations” in terms of scrutiny, but it also highlights an “insidious and toxic relationship” between BAE, the UK government and Saudi Arabia.

Declassified had previously revealed that, even during the Covid-19 pandemic, BAE is still running weekly supply flights to the Saudi air force, which are regarded by the UK government as essential “logistics support.” 

BAE has sold almost £5 billion worth of equipment to the Saudi defense ministry since the last check of the Warton factory.

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