I abstained on the vote on Labour’s motion in the debate on Yemen on October 26th, along with more than 100 of my Labour colleagues, because the motion, as written by the Labour frontbench, was not balanced and, if passed, would have made the humanitarian crisis in Yemen worse.
It called for Britain to suspend all support for the Saudi-led coalition’s campaign to help the internationally-recognised and legitimately-elected Government of Yemen defend itself against the Iranian backed and heavily armed Houthi extremist violence.
The international coalition action in support of the Yemeni Government is specifically mandated by a unanimous United Nations Security Council resolution 2216. So, to withdraw all support for it would have undermined the UN and the efforts of the UN Special Envoy at a critical time, with the Security Council due to discuss the issue again on Monday.
It would also have undermined the influence Britain has through training Saudi forces in internationally-recognised safer targeting practices to ensure unambiguous compliance with humanitarian law and avoid civilian casualties.
Finally, it would have undermined the legitimate Yemeni Government in its fight against the Iranian-backed Houthi extremists, which would only lead to greater famine and destruction.
Several Labour colleagues pleaded with our front bench to redraft their motion into a form we could have all supported, but to no avail. The senior Labour MP, Keith Vaz, who was born in Yemen and is Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, tabled a very sensible amendment, which our front bench would have been wise to support, but they didn’t, and it was not called for debate. If it had been, I would have happily supported it. I attach a link to Keith’s amendment, which can be found on page 6 of this document: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmagenda/OP161026.pdf
If you would like to read the whole Commons debate, you can do so here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-10-26/debates/61DFF92D-1BE0-4909-8020-76FC80CA5136/Yemen
You may also be interested in reading the letter the Yemeni ambassador wrote to every MP on the eve of the debate, which you can view here
Finally, if you haven’t already done so and are interested in Yemen, you may wish to read the recent Foreign Affairs Select Committee report into the crisis, which is very good and comprehensive: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmfaff/688/68802.htm