“Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world, official government figures show – with most of the weapons fuelling deadly conflicts in the Middle East.
Since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House “Freedom in the world” report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.
A full two-thirds of UK weapons over this period were sold to Middle Eastern countries, where instability has fed into increased risk of terror threats to Britain and across the West. …
… Ministers, who must sign-off all arms export licences, say the current system is robust and that they have revoked permission to export defence equipment in the past – for example in Russia and Ukraine.
But the Government has also ignored calls to stop selling weapons to repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused by UN bodies of potentially committing war crimes in its military operation in Yemen against Houthi rebels.
Both the European Parliament and the House of Commons International Development Committee have called for exports to the autocracy to stop, but the Government says it has not seen evidence of Saudi war crimes. …
… Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade warned that the dependence of British exporters on unsavory regimes could make the UK less likely to intervene against human rights violators.
“These terrible figures expose the hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. The government is always telling us that it acts to promote human rights and democracy, but it is arming and supporting some of the most repressive regimes in the world. The impact of UK arms sales is clear in Yemen, where British fighter jets and bombs have been central to the Saudi-led destruction,” he told The Independent.
“These regimes aren’t just buying weapons, they’re also buying political support and legitimacy. How likely is the UK to act against human rights violations in these countries when it is also profiting from them?
“There is no such thing as arms control in a war zone and there is no way of knowing how these weapons will be used. The fact that so many weapons were sold to Russia and Libya is a reminder that the shelf-life of weapons is often longer than the governments and situations they were sold to.”