Shadow ministers slam UK government’s ‘unacceptable’ arms sales to repressive regimes

By James Moules


OPPOSITION MPs have decried the UK governments arms sales record after data revealed that Britain licensed billions worth of military equipment to authoritarian regimes.

Government statistics gathered by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) showed that the UK has licensed more than £16 billion in arms over the past decade to nations listed as ‘Not Free’ by human rights monitoring group Freedom House.

The licences included equipment such as fighter jets, military vehicles, bombs, firearms and ammunition.

Some of the largest buyers include Saudi Arabia (£9.3 billion), Oman (£2.5 billion), Turkey (£1.4 billion), the UAE (£1 billion) and Qatar (£573 million).

Redaction Politics spoke to Wayne David, Shadow Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, who called on the government to give more consideration to the human rights record of any nation to which arms are sold.

He said: “It is unacceptable that the government are continuing to sell arms to countries without any real consideration of those countries’ human rights record.

“After a six month delay, the government only recently gave the go-ahead for the Parliamentary Committee on Arms Exports Controls (CAEC) to be reconstituted and there has not been any real scrutiny of the government’s policy and its licensing regime.”

He added: “I would like to see full, open and detailed consideration given by the committee of each individual arms deal and the context in which it is being made. I am especially concerned about the selling of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“The Appeal Court recently ruled against the government because of the Saudi’s use of arms in Yemen and yet it has resumed sales, and announced it was doing so the day after 20 Saudi officials were, quite rightly, placed on the foreign office’s Magnitsky sanctions list for their part in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. This is wrong.”

Freedom House offers an annual report on the state of democracy and civil liberties around the world.

Nations are put in one of three categories: ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’ and ‘Not Free’.

The UK has licensed arms sales to the following countries listed as ‘Not Free’:

  • Afghanistan (£105 million) 
  • Algeria (£299 million) 
  • Angola (£3.5 million) 
  • Azerbaijan (£1.6 million)
  • Bahrain (£110 million)
  • Burundi (£298,000)
  • Cambodia (£119,000)
  • Cameroon (£1.7 million)
  • Chad (£3.3 million)
  • China (£232 million)
  • Djibouti (£14 million)
  • Egypt (£218 million)
  • Equatorial Guinea (£993,000)
  • Eswatini (£178,000)
  • Ethiopia (£1.9 million)
  • Gabon (£1.2 million)
  • Kazakhstan (£7.4 million)
  • Laos (£456,000)
  • Libya (£44 million)
  • Oman (£2.5 billion)
  • Qatar (£573 million)
  • Russia (£56 million)
  • Rwanda (£2.4 million)
  • Saudi Arabia (£9.3 billion)
  • Somalia (£9.2 million)
  • South Sudan (£5.6 million)
  • Sri Lanka (£81 million)
  • Sudan (£126,000)
  • Turkey (£1.4 billion)
  • Turkmenistan (£1.3 million)
  • Uganda (£18 million)
  • United Arab Emirates (£1 billion)
  • Uzbekistan (£301,000)
  • Venezuela (£1.4 million)
  • Vietnam (£41 million)
  • Yemen (£3.8 million) 

This means that the UK has licensed arms sales to 36 out of the 49 ‘Not Free’ nations.

In the cases of Russia and Libya, the sales took place before embargoes, after which many of the licences were revoked.

Emily Thornberry, Shadow International Trade Secretary, said: “Ministers have a moral and legal duty to ensure that British exports of arms and equipment are not being used by overseas governments to engage in internal repression of their people.

“They should be especially conscious of that risk when those governments have a track record of abusing human rights, ignoring the rule of law, and suppressing democratic freedoms.

“As I have said for many years, we need a root-and-branch reform of our export licensing regime, to ensure that the UK is not, through our arms sales, contributing to the violation of international law.”

The CAAT’s Andrew Smith also said: “It has been yet another decade of shameful arms sales and disgraceful alliances.

“By arming these regimes, Downing Street is sending them a clear message of political and military support. These weapons are not just numbers on a trade sheet, they have been used to empower dictatorships and inflict repression on pro-democracy campaigners.”

However, the Department for International Trade defended the exports licensing.

A 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.”

They added that instances of double counting might happen to due licensed expiring before exports occur – meaning that a new licence must be issued for the exports to go ahead.


Featured Image: Pixabay

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