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New report shows Britain’s role in arming dictators

Issue No. 2246

MPs on the Commons Committees on Arms Exports Controls this week detailed the licences given to British firms to arm countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

The committees’ chair, Sir John Stanley, said the government had “misjudged the risk” that arms sales to dictatorships would aid repression.

In reality, the government knew the “risk”—but decided it was a price worth paying to get more cash for British arms dealers.

The British government approved licences to sell arms to Libya as recently as last year.

And in Bahrain, Britain issued licences covering submachine guns, sniper rifles, stun grenades and tear gas.

More arms went to Yemen, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

What exactly did David Cameron think such equipment would be used for if not internal repression?

Ian Godden, chair of the trade organisation representing Britain’s arms industry, was unsurprisingly on the defensive.

He said that the industry “supports over 300,000 jobs” and that arms exports in 2009 were worth £7.2 billion.

Cameron’s waffle about humanitarianism is a hollow sham. And he is already manoeuvring to limit the impact of the revelations and to make sure that British firms can continue to deal in death around the world.

The committees’ report says the government review on issuing licences should be extended to cover all authoritarian regimes.

Cameron hasn’t done so.

The whole saga shows up the real priorities of the British government. They are not to help ordinary people, but to prop up the British arms firms that help keep ordinary people down.

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Tue 5 Apr 2011, 18:23 BST
Issue No. 2246
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