Arms sales to Saudi Arabia may have continued - and even increased - even after they were ruled unlawful, MPs have been told.

More than 5,000 deliveries of weapons to Saudi Arabia were made under ‘open licences’ in 2019.

The Government agreed to pause new export licences to Saudi Arabia in June 2019, after the Court of Appeal declared ministers had not properly assessed whether the weapons could be used in the bloody civil war in Yemen.

Sales were resumed earlier this year, prompting outcry from campaign groups.

But even while they were stopped, firms with existing ‘open licences’ continued to sell weapons to the Kingdom.

Roy Isbister of campaign group Saferworld told the International Trade Committee: “In 2019 - and half of that year was after the decision following the court of appeal - there were 5,152 deliveries against open licences to Saudi Arabia, which is an 18% increase on the average of the last four years."

Young students play in the ruins of the Aal Okab school

Unlike normal export licences, which are usually valid for a single shipment, open licences allow firms to sell to other countries over an extended period.

A total of £82 billion worth of arms export contracts were approved between 2009 and 2018 - with at least half under open licences.

And the UK licenced some £6.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi-led forces in Yemen from the start of the war in 2015 to the pause in 2019.

Dr Perlo-Freeman said the UK's export control system "seems to be designed to allow exports to proceed in almost any circumstances the government, for political or economic reasons, wishes it to do so."

He added: "We've seen repeated instances of hospitals, schools, market places, residential areas, agricultural land and production facilities being bombed. Very often the same facilities being bombed repeated times.

"And against this forest of a huge humanitarian catastrophe, the government has chosen to see a few isolated trees."

A Government spokesperson said: "The Government takes its export responsibilities seriously and assesses all export licences in accordance with strict licensing criteria. We will not issue any export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria.”