It’s business as usual for the UK merchants of death
By Paddy McGuffin
A huge surge in British arms exports to the Middle East and north Africa shows that for all its talk it is “business as usual” for the British government.
The Foreign Office has pledged to revoke export licences to regimes where they may have been used to suppress democratic protest during the “Arab spring” uprisings.
But the most recent figures show that arms exports between February and June increased by almost 30 per cent on the same period the previous year.
And while the Foreign Office revoked an estimated 160 armaments export licences in February, around 600 remain in place – including licences to sell shotguns and ammunition to Bahrain where the monarchy has brutally suppressed peaceful protests.
In the second quarter of 2011 Britain exported £30.5 million worth of armaments to countries including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Among weapons sold to the regimes were sniper rifles and other small arms, ammo and sub-machine guns.
Concerns were first expressed by campaigners earlier this year that the weapons – sold by British arms manufacturers and granted export licences from the government – may have been used in the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protests across the Middle East and north Africa.
Reports that armaments sold to Bahrain and armoured vehicles sold to Saudi Arabia had been used to quell demonstrations against the Bahraini monarchy led to the Foreign Office promising an urgent review of all military exports to the region. But campaigners said the new figures showed that Britain continued to breach its own arms export rules, which state that the government will “not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.”
Campaign Against Arms Trade spokeswoman Kaye Stearman told the Morning Star: “This is very, very shocking, but sadly not surprising. It just goes to show that all the government’s fine words about defending democracy and not selling arms to tyrants were just that – words. It is business as usual.”
In the first quarter of 2011 Britain approved export licences to Bahrain for components for assault rifles, combat aircraft and machine guns. During the same period it approved licences for the export of components for combat vehicles, military helicopters, sniper rifles and military support aircraft to Saudi Arabia.
The government claims that it has some of the most rigid and transparent export controls in the world, a claim rejected by campaigners.
War on Want chief executive John Hillary said: “It is outrageous that Britain should still be exporting arms to a region in such crisis. We’ve seen the murderous consequences of these arms exports in country after country. It is unacceptable for the government to be supporting arms export licences to the Middle East.”