UK arms exporters face little scrutiny from MPs with key committee yet to sit, stresses Shadow Minister

By Declan Carey

PRESSURE continues to pile on the government to reconvene the Arms Export Committee after a prominent shadow minister stressed weapons exports must be properly scrutinised.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Peace & Disarmament Fabian Hamilton published an open letter to Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg stressing that the Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), the UK’s Parliamentary Committee for analysing the sale of British weapons, has not met for six months.

Campaign Against Arms Trade have equally pushed the need for proper oversight of the UK’s arms trade to be re-established amid the war in Yemen and civil rights crackdown in Hong Kong. 

The Leeds North East MP claims this has led to weapons made in the UK having a “huge impact on conflict zones around the world.”

The letter reads: “The CAEC is vital to parliamentary process as it allows MPs to scrutinise the government’s decisions to grant licences for the sale of British weapons and related equipment to countries around the world as well as the UK’s ongoing commitment to international non-proliferation.

“However, the CAEC has still to sit and does not yet even have a chair. The consequent lack of scrutiny is worrying and needs to be addressed if we are to allow parliament the ability properly to analyse the sale of British-made weapons that could have a huge impact on conflict zones around the world.

“In the past the CAEC has faced similar problems. Following the retirement of the Conservative Chair, Sir John Stanley, in 2015, the committee didn’t meet for over nine months leaving members subsequently unable adequately to scrutinise the sale of British-manufactured arms to countries like Saudi Arabia.

“Although the committee finally launched an inquiry into arms sales to countries that were taking part in the war in Yemen in 2016, it is quite clear that this should have been investigated much earlier and might have prevented British weapons being used against civilians in that conflict.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy spoke out demanding the Government get the CAEC “up and running without delay”.

The sale of British weapons licences around the world is a multi-billion pound industry and according to data published by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) the UK’s biggest buyers include Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Oman, with a total valuation of £19.4 billion.

A CAAT spokesperson told Redaction Politics that the Conservative Government has prioritised “arms company profits over human rights” by continuing to sell weapons even though the Court of Appeal ruled last year that such sales were illegal.

He said: “The Committee must be reformed as soon as possible. There is a lot of important work for it to be doing. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is using UK-made fighter, bombs and missiles in its brutal bombing campaign.

“This bombardment has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Last year the Court of Appeal ruled that these arms sales were illegal, yet Boris Johnson and his colleagues have continued to arm and support the regime. 

“Likewise, UK made tear gas has been used by the Hong Kong police against pro-democracy campaigners. Time and again the government has shown that it cannot be trusted to follow its own rules. It has consistently prioritised arms company profits over human rights. 

“The UK government is one of the biggest arms dealers in the world, and parliament must be able to effectively scrutinise its sales and hold the government to account for its role in fuelling and enabling these abuses.”

The Defence Committee told Redaction Politics that work has already started to reconvene the CAEC.

A spokesperson said: “The Committees ordinarily involved in scrutinising arms export controls and their Chairs are actively discussing how to re-establish CAEC.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s office was contacted for comment.


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Featured Image: Russ London @WikimediaCommons

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