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Why Britain’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is about to change

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Last week wasn’t good for Saudi Arabia's monarchy. In a dramatic judgment, the Court of Appeal ruled that the British government acted unlawfully in approving arms sales to the country. Though Saudi Arabia and the UK have a strategic relationship spanning over a century and encompassing arms sales, military cooperation, trade and investment, this could all be about to change.

Britain has been arming the House of Saud since the monarchy’s forces conquered the majority of the Arabian Peninsula in the 1920s, fending off an early rebellion and establishing the kingdom that we know today. The United States later became the Saudis’ primary Western protector, but the UK’s role has remained pivotal.

Britain helped set up a praetorian National Guard in the 1950s and 60s to protect the monarchy from coups. Since the 1960s, the UK has supplied the Saudi Kingdom with successive fleets of military jets. In 1965, Harold Wilson’s government approved the export of a fleet of 40 Lightning aircraft . In 1985, Margaret Thatcher’s infamous “al-Yamamah” deal covered the export of 120 Tornados. The deal was dogged by allegations of corruption, but in 2006 Tony Blair’s government took the extraordinary step of pulling the plug on a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the deal, which........

© New Statesman