Jeremy Corbyn was last night accused of putting thousands of defence industry jobs at risk by demanding an end to Saudi Arabian arms sales.
A furious row broke out as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began his three-day visit to the UK with talks at No 10 and lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Ministers are using the visit to try to nail down a deal with the Saudis to buy 48 Typhoon fighters from BAE Systems, which assembles the jets at the Warton and Samlesbury plants in Lancashire, where about 5,000 people are employed.
Britain is Saudi Arabia’s second-biggest defence equipment supplier.
The Government is also hoping to secure for the City of London a multi- billion-pound Saudi oil flotation.
A furious row broke out as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (pictured outside Downing Street yesterday) began his three-day visit to the UK with talks at No 10 and lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace
But going on the offensive, the Labour leader yesterday said ministers should halt all arms sales in response to the desert kingdom’s involvement in the war in Yemen, which he said had created a ‘humanitarian disaster’.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, he said: ‘It cannot be right that the Government is colluding in what the UN says is evidence of war crimes.
‘Will the Prime Minister use her meeting today with the Crown Prince to halt the arms supplies and demand an immediate ceasefire in Yemen?’
Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Emily Thornberry, also said arms sales were ‘shameful’, argued that Bin Salman shouldn’t be given the ‘red carpet’ treatment and accused ministers of ‘bowing and scraping’ to the Saudi ruler.
Several Labour frontbenchers even joined protests against the visit outside Downing Street.
But last night Tory MPs said that Mr Corbyn’s ‘carping’ could damage the defence industry and put thousands of people out of work.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured) said ministers should halt all arms sales in response to the desert kingdom’s involvement in the war in Yemen, which he said had created a ‘humanitarian disaster’ at PMQs yesterday
Aldershot MP Leo Docherty, a former Scots Guards officer, said: ‘The defence industry is critical to our economy. Jeremy Corbyn is clueless about that, and he’s happy to put thousands of jobs at risk.
He’s also clueless about the importance of the domestic defence industry to our safety.
‘Saudi Arabia is a critical defence ally. Jeremy Corbyn has no clue about defence and that’s very dangerous.’
Crispin Blunt, a member of the Conservative Middle East Council, said: ‘Corbyn is a clear threat to Britain’s economic and security interests. Saudi Arabia is on the cusp of the most exciting economic and social changes in its history.
‘It’s trying to do the right thing in the Yemen and needs the help of its friends. To sit back and carp at an important British ally moving in a positive direction is absolutely the wrong approach.’
In the Commons, Mr Corbyn also accused the Government of ‘colluding’ in war crimes by selling arms to Riyadh and claimed British military advisers are ‘directing war’ in Yemen.
That sparked a furious backlash from No 10, which said Mr Corbyn had got it wrong.
Last night Tory MPs said that Mr Corbyn’s ‘carping’ could damage the defence industry and put thousands of people out of work. Pictured: Mohammed bin Salman greets Theresa May outside Downing Street
Mrs May’s spokesman said: ‘The suggestion that the British military advisers are directing the war is simply not true.
‘The UK is not a member of the Saudi-led coalition operating in Yemen, British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes, directing or conducting operations in Yemen, and are not involved in the Saudi targeting decision-making process.’
A Downing Street source added: ‘It’s now clear that Jeremy Corbyn is prepared to twist the facts about the work our dedicated troops are doing overseas in order to score political points — and that’s totally unacceptable. He should correct the record at the earliest opportunity.’
In her response to Mr Corbyn, Mrs May defended Britain’s security relationship with the Middle Eastern kingdom.
‘It is an important one and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country,’ she said.
She added that everyone was ‘concerned’ about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and insisted that she would raise human rights issues — and the conflict — with the Crown Prince.
A royal visit: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets his UK counterpart HRH the Queen
Following talks last night, officials said the two countries agreed to potential deals worth £65 billion, calling them a ‘significant boost for UK prosperity’.
The UK will also send British experts to help modernise the Saudi education system and help improve gender equality.
Ministers are also attempting to push British claims to host the world’s biggest stock market flotation.
The London Stock Exchange hopes to secure the listing of the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil company when it sells off a five per cent stake worth an estimated £72 billion.
The Crown Prince had lunch at Buckingham Palace with the Queen and the Duke of York. Last night he dined with the Prince of Wales and Prince William at Clarence House.
In a statement, Bin Salman said there were ‘huge opportunities’ to boost trade between the UK and Saudi Arabia.
He said: ‘I have no doubt that it’s a very deep relationship. And it’s different and it’s not only about politics or military or intelligence, but also socially and economically.’
Seen as a reformer, the 32-year-old prince is relaxing some of the strict Islamic social laws and is to lift the long-standing ban on women driving.
Speaking alongside his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: ‘I am delighted that we have reached an agreement that should lead to new Saudi investment in, and through, Britain, and procurement from new companies, worth up to £65 billion . . . over the next ten years, providing a vote of confidence in London as the leading financial centre in the world.’
Corbyn said colluding with Saudi Arabia was tantamount to endorsing war crimes, because of Saudi’s involvement in the war in Yemen. Pictured: Anti-war protesters arrive in London