Theresa May has denied Britain is selling its principles for trade deals as she prepares to fly into Saudi Arabia amid widespread criticism over its human rights record.

The Prime Minister has faced repeated calls to suspend arms sales following claims of breaches of international law in Yemen under the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign.

Labour called on Mrs May to halt weapons exports to the state immediately and urged her to back an independent investigation into war crimes in the conflict.

But the PM insisted the UK must engage with Saudi Arabia rather than snipe from the sidelines.

She told the BBC: “We are concerned about the humanitarian situation. That’s why the UK last year was the fourth largest donor to the Yemen in terms of humanitarian aid – £103 million. We will be continuing with that.

“And, yes, we will be raising the humanitarian issue. We believe it is important that we recognise the threat that there is in terms of people’s lives. We will be supporting that through the aid and support that we give.”

Theresa May, left, meets Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulqi
Theresa May, left, meets Jordanian Prime Minister Hani al-Mulqi before heading to Saudi Arabia (Raad Adayleh/AP)

Asked whether she would be raising human rights issues with her Saudi hosts, Mrs May said: “The important thing for the United Kingdom when we meet people and we want to raise issues of human rights – and that may be in a number of countries around the world – is if we have the relationship with them, then we are able to do that.

“So, rather than just standing on the sidelines and sniping, it’s important to engage, to talk to people, to talk about our interests and to raise, yes, difficult issues when we feel it’s necessary to do so.”

Theresa May is visiting Jordan and Saudi Arabia for trade talks
Theresa May is visiting Jordan and Saudi Arabia for trade talks (Victoria Jones/PA)

Asked if the UK was selling its principles cheaply for the sake of trade and arms deals, she replied: “No we are not doing that. What we are doing is continuing the links that we have had for a long time with countries that are important to us around the world.”

The Saudis back the war-torn Yemen’s internationally recognised government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Britain has continued to allow arms sales, with more than £3.3 billion of exports since the bombing began in March 2015.

At least 10,000 people have been killed during the war, according to the United Nations.