Ministry of Defence figures show the UK defence industries are ahead of those of Russia, France, Germany and Israel in the arms exporter table, lagging behind (by some distance) only the USA.Over 60% of UK arms sales go to the Middle East, 16% go to North America, 13% to Asia Pacific and 8% to Europe.
The UK trades with 39 of the 51 governments outlawed by Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Report, including 22 countries that are on the UK’s own human rights watch list! UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the Government’s agency in charge of promoting British business abroad, has championed the UK’s long-term leading role in arming dictatorships and supporting political suppression:“The UK is one of the world’s most successful defence exporters, averaging second place in the global rankings on a rolling ten-year basis, making it Europe’s leading defence exporter in the period.”
UKTI employ more staff in their specialist defence unit in any of the other 45 sectors that they represent. But their endeavours to increase sales of arms and other defence-related products and services have come under particular scrutiny recently because Saudi Arabia remains one of the UK’s biggest clients.A cross party committee of MPs to monitor arms export controls has had a draft report leaked; it includes strong condemnation of continued arms sales to Saudi Arabia: “The weight of evidence of violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia.”
Unsurprisingly “pro defence” Labour and Tory MPs have united to water down criticism of a “key ally.” The Guardian reports that over 130 amendments were proposed by Crispin Blunt the committee chair, alongside veteran Labour right winger John Spellar.
Their attempts to wreck the report were backed up by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson releasing a statement defending the continued sales, and putting the Government’s view that there is no evidence of breaches of international law and this “key test” had not been met in, for instance, the bombing of the Iranian backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. These MPs have now refused to discuss whether they coordinated a walk out of the committee to ensure it was not quorate and thus stop it from voting on its proposals.
In a pathetic attempt to undermine criticism, Crispin Blunt has said the leak of the information is so serious that private investigators should be called into Parliament to investigate how it happened.Since the 15 August bombing of a Yemeni hospital which saw Medecins Sans Frontieres pull out of large swathes of the conflict zone, the Saudis have come under increasing pressure account for their conduct.Saudi Arabia’s continued bombing of Yemen should be opposed. The UK should stop arming Saudi Arabia.