TORY ministers will continue to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite MEPs yesterday calling for a European Union-wide arms embargo against the Gulf state in protest against its bombing campaign in Yemen.

As the European Parliament voted by a majority for the ban, Prime Minister David Cameron was boasting of his determination to help sell “brilliant things” such as Eurofighter Typhoons to Saudi Arabia.

The call for an embargo on weapons and munitions exports to the kingdom cited the humanitarian situation in Yemen as a result of Saudi-led military intervention. Heavy aerial bombing has been condemned by the UN.

Last year, the UK supplied export licences for up to £3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and Britain has been accused of direct involvement in the bombing campaign through the deployment of British military personnel.

However, the Strasbourg vote does not force EU member states to act and yesterday the Foreign Office insisted existing arms licensing exports to Saudi Arabia were lawful.

“We are aware of the vote that has taken place in the European Parliament on a resolution on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, which included calling for the EU to ban arms exports to Saudi Arabia,” said a spokeswoman.

“The UK Government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. All export licence applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis and the Government is satisfied that extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria.”

Meanwhile, Cameron was talking up the UK Government’s role in selling equipment made by defence company BAE Systems to Saudi Arabia, Oman and other countries as he visited the firm’s factory in Preston, reassuring staff he would not let the EU referendum distract his cause.

He said:“I’m going to be spending a lot of the next four months talking about this issue but I promise I will not be taking my eye off the ball, making sure the brilliant things you make here at BAE Systems are available and sold all over the world. We have some of the toughest rules on defence exports – and rightly so – but I think it is absolutely right to get behind companies like this … to safeguard jobs and and skills and investment by making sure we can sell these things around the world.”

Alyn Smith, the SNP MEP, who voted in favour of the embargo, called for the ban until alleged breaches of international humanitarian law in Yemen had been fully investigated.

Smith, a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said more must be done to protect civilians in Yemen.

“Our duty is to the civilians in Yemen and given widespread and. I believe, very valid concerns over the conduct of the war by Saudi forces, our call for an EU-wide arms embargo is proportionate and necessary.

"The Saudis say they are investigating what they call incidents and I welcome that scrutiny, but that is not enough – humanitarian NGOs have asked for an independent inquiry that meets international law standards,” he said. “There is a clear case to answer and, as a lawyer by profession, I believe EU-made weapons systems are being exported to Saudi in breach of international and EU law given concerns over their use in Yemen.”

The MEP, who grew up in Saudi Arabia, added: “I believe the legal standards EU member states have signed up to in the EU position on arms exports are being breached.

“It is worth also remembering that this is a call for an arms embargo, not an arms embargo, and it is the actions of the Saudi-led coalition that have brought us here. The humanitarian situation is getting worse, not better. That message is politically significant in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia must show a lot more consideration for civilian lives in Yemen.”

Saudi Arabia began bombing in Yemen in March last year to support the Yemeni president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who was under threat from Houthi forces aligned with Iran.

Since then more than 5,800 people have been killed, with schools, hospitals and health centres all hit by air strikes.

Amnesty International says more than 80 per cent of the population – 21 million people – are in need of humanitarian aid, including two million children at risk of malnutrition.

Richard Howitt, the Labour MEP who drafted the key amendment, said: “This is a clear humanitarian appeal to end the bloodshed in Yemen and a call on Saudi Arabia to pursue a political rather than a military solution to the conflict.”

Howitt, who is Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman in Europe, also urged the British Government to stop selling weapons to Riyadh.

“The UK is one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia and needs to heed this call, which has been overwhelmingly supported across the political spectrum and by a vast citizen campaign,” he said.

An earlier draft of the resolution that named and criticised the UK and other EU member states, including France, Spain and Germany, was dropped. The final version said “some EU member states” had continued to authorise transfers of weapons to Saudi Arabia since the violence started, in violation of EU rules on arms control.

The motion was passed by 359 votes to 212, as a diverse coalition of Socialists, Liberals, Greens, Leftists and Eurosceptics overcame opposition from the leadership of the two main centre-right groups, including Britain’s Conservatives.

Under a 2008 code of conduct, EU member states promised not to sell weapons to countries where they might be used “to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law” and undermine regional peace and stability.

The National View: ‘Brilliant things’ – it’s a pity a conscience isn’t among them