UK arms sales to 'repressive regimes' soar to £5bn since election

UK arms sales to 'repressive regimes' soar to £5bn since election
UK arms manufacturers have seen a huge rise in sales, mainly to Saudi Arabia, reports said, just days before the annual international arms fair in London.

3 min read
10 September, 2017
The UK exports billions worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia [Getty]

British arms sales to repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, have increased to almost £5 billion since the Conservative party won the last election, reports revealed.

UK arms manufacturers have seen a huge rise in sales, mainly to Saudi Arabia, the Guardian reported, just days before the annual Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair in London’s Excel centre.

“The UK has consistently armed many of the most brutal and authoritarian regimes in the world, and a number have been invited to London to buy weapons,” said Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade. 

“These arms sales aren’t morally neutral, they are a clear sign of political and military support for the regimes they are being sold to. The government has played an absolutely central role, and has consistently put arms exports to despots and dictators ahead of human rights.”

Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has racked up orders for more than £3.75bn worth of British defence equipment - up from £160m in the 22 months leading up to the election. 

Other major buyers were Algeria, which agreed a military helicopter deal worth £195 million in September 2015, Qatar, which is buying military support aircraft worth £120 million, Venezuela and China, among others.

In July, the British government said it licensed around £4.1 billion ($5.3bn) of weapons to the Middle East since the election in May 2015.

"These arms sales do not make any of us any safer," Smith, said in July.

"They fuel war and conflict by providing political and military support for some of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the world."

While Israel, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE all bought millions of pounds-worth of British-made weapons, their purchases were eclipsed by Saudi Arabia's huge spending spree.

Riyadh was the number-one buyer for the time specified, having bought billions of pounds-worth of weapons, likely for use in its ongoing war in Yemen.

More than 10,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands more having fled their homes.

On July 10, a British court ruled Britain's arms sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful, despite concerns over the civilian death toll during Riyadh's bombing campaign in Yemen.

The High Court said it found no "real risk" that there might be "serious violations" of International Humanitarian Law such that UK's sale of weapons to its biggest client should be suspended or cancelled.

"This case has seen an increased scrutiny of the government's toxic relationship with Saudi Arabia," Smith added.

"It is a relationship that more than ever needs to be examined and exposed. For decades the UK has been complicit in the oppression of Saudi people, and now it is complicit in the destruction of Yemen."