Tory MP sent on £8,000 Saudi-funded trip becomes head of UK arms committee

PUBLISHED: 17:01 07 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:03 07 July 2020

Mark Garnier (L) during the naming ceremony for GREAT Britain at Albert Docks; Tim Goode/PA Wire

Mark Garnier (L) during the naming ceremony for GREAT Britain at Albert Docks; Tim Goode/PA Wire

PA Archive/PA Images

A Tory MP who went on an £8,000 trip to Saudi Arabia paid by the country’s leaders has just been appointed as head of a parliamentary committee on arms exports.

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Mark Garnier - who served as international trade minister under Theresa May - will head the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC) - an influential body in charge of regulating £14 billion weapons export industry.

But the appointment has raised eyebrows across Westminster due to the MPs connection with the Saudi state and other middle-eastern nations.

In 2018, Garnier inspected a Saudi military base as part of a 2018 “fact-finding” tour and had all his expenses - equalling £7,800 in total - paid for by the Saudi foreign ministry.

He also went on a trade mission to Abu Dhabi 2012 and attended a defence industry dinner in 2015 as a guest of aircraft manufacturer Airbus, the i revealed.

Saudi Arabia is the single largest buyer of British arms while Abu Dhabi is also a significant purchaser.

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The Worcestershire MP defended the trips, explaining that he never discussed UK-Saudi military matters and had visited to review what measures a Saudi camp had taken to prevent Yemeni rocket attacks.

Garnier pledged to be “wholly impartial” in his new role.

“The question of impartiality to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE is a fair and important one,” he said.

“Whilst I can assure people that I intend to be wholly impartial on all aspects of the committee’s work, ultimately I can only be judged on my actions whilst chair, actions that I hope will not be found wanting in the future.”

CAEC reconvenes for the first time since the general election and comes as foreign secretary Dominic Raab introduced sanctions on 20 Saudis, including members of the inner circle of country’s de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman, linked to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The government announced this week that it intends to start granting new export licences for weaponry to be sent to Riyadh after such deals were blocked by a Court of Appeal ruling last year.

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