By Jane Marriott
On 11 February, the UK took the decision on security grounds to temporarily suspend operations at the British Embassy in Sana’a and withdraw diplomatic staff. I would like to explain why. The UK wants to see success in Yemen. We have our national counter-terrorism objectives against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But we have also had a presence in Yemen to disburse our large development and aid programme ($300 million over three years) to help the 15.9 million Yemenis who don’t have access to basic food or services. We want to see a stable Yemen. The GCC Initiative set out some key principles for Yemen, most importantly, political consensus. The idea that one man or group should never again dictate the lives of Yemenis, but that the broad spectrum of political groups, civil society organisations and movements should have a say in how they were governed. And those voices almost unanimously said “work together and fix the economy”. The GCC Initiative provided the mechanisms for an inclusive political dialogue involving those groups who hadn’t signed it, including the Houthis and Herak. The UK was in regular contact with all groups, including the Houthis, during the National Dialogue. They, like all groups, had legitimate grievances that were not being addressed quickly enough. Since September, one group – the Houthis – have imposed their will on the political scene in Sana’a. This was against the new political system demanded in Change Square in 2011. But their actions have also raised other serious concerns about the future of Yemen, including the unity of the country. The UK continues to support unity and territorial integrity of Yemen, with autonomous regions as set out in the NDC Outcomes. We are concerned about the continued house arrests of President Hadi, former Prime Minister Bahah and several other Cabinet Ministers. Assurances that they will be released have yet to be realised. We are concerned about future military clashes between different groups, including in Marib. We are concerned about the economy, which hangs by a thread. By taking over the government in such a way, many members of the international community will now find it legally more difficult to give economic support to Yemen. We have talked representatives of Ansar Allah through these concerns. Fortunately, there is a solution and one that I hope will see the quick return of our Embassy. That is to have an agreement based on genuine political dialogue between all the main groups (and, yes, that should include representatives of women and civil society as per the NDC Outcomes). The political roadmap is set out in the GCC Iniive, the NDC Outcomes and the Peace National Partnership Agreement. It shouldn’t be a dream: it should become a reality. The return of our Embassy will also require there to be a functioning and legitimate government in place, that is capable of protecting our Missions, so we can work with the government and regions across Yemen to get back to what Yemenis want: peace, stability, rule of law, food, a job, healthcare. These are all basic human rights and we want to return and help Yemenis achieve them. The ball is in the Houthis’ court.