Fallon had been asked if the Conservatives would consider suspending arms sales to the Saudis, given the serious concerns raised by international observers about the war in Yemen.
UK military personnel have been providing Saudi forces with airstrike and artillery training and Britain has sold billions of pounds’ worth of arms to the Gulf theocracy.
With Yemen’s main port blockaded there are fears the impoverished state could slide into famine unless the war is halted.
“Saudi Arabia is being attacked by Houthi rebels across its southern border with Yemen. It’s had its towns and villages shelled by the Houthis,” Fallon told the BBC.
“Saudi Arabia is fully entitled to defend itself and it’s fully entitled to call on its friends in so doing.”
Fallon said the UK gains from a close relationship with Riyadh, calling it “an enormously important trading partner, a commercial partner, but also a defense partner.”
“We share intelligence with Saudi Arabia about terrorism. We gain from that relationship. Every arms export application is very carefully looked at and judged by our criteria — some of the toughest in the world. But Saudi Arabia, equally, is entitled to defend itself.”
Fallon’s comment came a day after the head of UK arms giant BAE Systems told peace activists the firm’s staff are working in Saudi Arabia but would not say precisely what they were doing.
Michael Fallon on #r4today cheer-leading for arms exports to Saudia Arabia. No mention of humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. Shameful.
— Liz Clements (@LizClements) May 11, 2017
“We supply equipment and we maintain equipment, but we are not involved in any military action,” CEO Roger Carr told activists from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
— Martin Shovel (@MartinShovel) May 11, 2017
However, he admitted that BAE workers are “looking after the aircraft to make sure they can perform to the specification.”
“We are not arbiters, we are suppliers of equipment under a contract,” Carr said.