UK arms exports reach record levels, renewing warnings about UK’s complicity in ‘fuelling’ global conflict

'Billions of pounds of arms are exported to dictatorial, or near-dictatorial regimes that commit appalling human rights violations with a disturbing lack of transparency.'

Saudi arms trade

In 2022, weapons made in Britain and exported to some of the most oppressive regimes in the world almost doubled to £8.5bn, marking the highest level since records began.

This was the finding of a report compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), which works to end the international arms trade. The organisation’s Annual Report: UK Arms Exports in 2022, published on October 5, 2023, found that the £8.5bn figure had been driven, in part, by the delivery of Eurofighter Typhoons to Qatar, along with substantial bomb and missile deliveries to Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

The report shows that the highest level of arms exports from the UK were to countries with poor human rights records and repressive regimes. This includes £2.7bn worth of arms being exporting to Qatar, £1.1bn to Saudi Arabia, and £424m to Turkey.

The report also listed Ukraine as a country of concern, warning that the UK government is failing to put any measures in place to safeguard weapons when the conflict ends. Both the US and the EU have put additional regulatory frameworks in place to address such concerns about Ukraine.

CAAT’s report also highlights small arms sales exported the US as concerning because weapons arriving from Britain could contribute to gun violence, or be smuggled to Mexico and Central America where most of the guns used by criminal gangs in the US originate from.

In response to the report, Emily Apple, CAAT’s media coordinator, said: “The Annual Report gives a clear picture of how the UK is complicit in fuelling conflict around the world. Billions of pounds of arms are exported to dictatorial, or near-dictatorial regimes that commit appalling human rights violations with a disturbing lack of transparency.”

The report urges for greater transparency to ensure companies provide accurate data on the costs of weapons and the quantities that are being exported.

Apple added that as we move closer towards a general election, “it is vital that all political parties take CAAT’s recommendations seriously and commit to taking urgent action over these deadly sales.”

The report was issued as Yemen, which has been showered with Saudi bombs, many made in Britain, for around eight years, is said to be nowhere near a ceasefire.

On October 3, around 50 NGOs said that food shortages, power cuts, and a collapsing currency are upending daily life in Yemen as peace talks make no headway in restoring a ceasefire that lapsed one year ago.

LFF reached out to the Department of Trade for commentary on CAAT’s report. A UK government spokesperson said:

“We take our export control responsibilities extremely seriously and operate one of the most robust and transparent export control regimes in the world.

“We carefully assess all licence applications from UK exporters and refuse or revoke licences when they don’t meet our strict criteria.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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