The UK Has Sold £10 Billion of Weapons to the World’s Most Repressive Regimes In the Past Five Years
Our government has sold arms to 35 of the 48 countries identified by Freedom House as “not free”
Since 2015 the UK has sold £10 billion worth of weapons to the world’s most repressive regimes. Our government has sold arms to 35 of the 48 countries identified by Freedom House, a US based human rights institution, as “not free”.
Our government claims to stand up for human rights and only in March Dominic Raab, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, gave his support to the UN’s global ceasefire. While claiming such niceties, the UK continued to export weapons of war, helping to feed and sustain conflict across the world.
The UK has sold missiles, warplanes, bombs, bullets, explosives and endless supplies of guns - machine guns, sniper rifles, assault rifles and pistols. We have sold to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, China, and exported anti-riot guns, teargas and riot shields to the United States where in recent days the use of such equipment against unarmed protesters has been witnessed by the rest of the world.
Statistics on arms sales released by the Department of International Trade show that in 2019 the UK sold £1.3bn worth of weapons to repressive regimes. This compares to £310m in 2018 - representing an increase of more than 300%. There is no question that our government puts profit before human rights.
Most of this growth came from the Middle East: 2019 was a lucrative year in terms of licences to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and UAE.
With Saudi Arabia accounting for approximately 50% of all arms sales from the UK in the last decade, the impact of this trade is clear to see. Saudi Arabia is not simply a brutally oppressive regime towards its own population - according to Amnesty International a record number of executions (184) were recorded in 2019 - but its war on Yemen has seen hospitals and funerals targeted, the county’s health system and infrastructure decimated, and over 100,000 people killed. The war has caused the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis with over 11 million children in desperate need of assistance.
Although the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) won a landmark victory in the summer of 2019, making it unlawful for the government to grant export licenses for military equipment to Saudi, sales nonetheless continued. On 26 September 2019 the then Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, admitted that since the ruling the UK had three times breached the court order.
The Parliamentary Committee on Arms Exports Controls was dissolved for the election in December 2019 and has yet to be resurrected. When Truss was questioned by the International Trade Committee last autumn the discussion on the arms trade lasted just one minute.
Aided by this lack of parliamentary scrutiny, UK-made weapons continue to play a critical role in the bombardment of Yemen and elsewhere. In April BAE Systems was still flying supplies and equipment to assist the Saudi operations, enabling the coalition to launch over 100 air strikes in early May.
It is essential that we call out our government on its complicity in exporting weapons of war, conflict and instability to despotic regimes. Now is the time to pile on the pressure and insist that our manufacturing industries move from industries of war to industries of peace.