Britain’s shameful and immoral trade in arms

Written By: Tribune Editorial
Published: July 29, 2017 Last modified: July 29, 2017

As Theresa May enjoys the tranquility of the French and Swiss Alps during her latest hiking holiday, she will likely give some thought to Britain’s place in the modern world.

Brexit will inevitably be uppermost in her mind as the battered Prime Minister seeks a calm and restful sojourn (which would be grossly undeserved). The thought that should be burned into her brain is: shame.

A report just released, quietly, under the cloak of parliamentary procedure, begs the most fundamental questions about the nature of Britain in the modern world – especially the pernicious nature of the UK arms industry.

The report, and evidence prior to its semi-secret publication, point to a country which, in a key part of its foreign policy, is immoral, anti-democratic and responsible for policies contrary to international law.

It was issued under a practice cynically known as “putting out the trash”, which is inherently anti-democratic. It involves the “dumping” of dozens of reports and documents on which the Government would rather have as little light shone as possible. Its aim is helped immeasurably by the release of the documents – the “trash” – with no prior notice, on the last day of Parliament before the long summer recess. MPs have no time to debate the contents. The Government had published very little since the election, but the trash amounted to more than 20 documents released in one day.

The arms trade report expressed “grave concern” about arms sales and human rights in Saudi Arabia – as well it might. In the past two years Britain has sold weapons to Saudi Arabia worth £3.3 billion, according to Government figures. Ministers have to sign licences for all sales and the orders from Saudi Arabia include fighter jets and parts, drones, grenades and missiles. That is in spite of evidence from the United Nations and human rights groups detailing large-scale human rights abuses and possible war crimes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, where it is fighting on the government side of a civil war.

Weapons originating in the UK have been responsible for the systematic and wholesale murder of civilian non-combatants. In the six months after a Saudi airstrike on a funeral which killed scores of Yemenis the Government approved £283 million worth of arms sales, according to
the UN.

Trade Secretary Liam Fox questioned the justification for the sales, which are prolonging a war which, in two years, has seen 10,000 people killed and more that three million driven from their homes.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had no such qualms: “So far, we do not believe that there has been a clear breach of international law, at the moment we do not think the threshold has bee crossed.” Which begs the question of what the threshold might conceivably be.

Human rights abusers

The trade in death is not limited to Saudi Arabia. Since 2010 the UK has sold arms to 39 of the 41 countries ranked on the independent Freedom of the World report, or two-thirds of the states on its own list of human rights abusers. The roll call includes Bahrain, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Russia and Syria.

All of which makes Britain’s place in the international community reprehensible, to put it mildly. And Brexit predictions say new trade arrangements will make it worse. While Labour is committed to clamping down on such trade, the Government’s policy is immoral. Yet May is adamant: visiting the Saudi capital Riyadh, she said: “It is in our national interest to ensure that the values that underpin us as Britons are values we promote around the world.”

Yes, welcome to Britain in the modern world.