70 per cent of UK public opposes arms sales

As arms companies from all over the world descend on London to present their weapons at Defence and Security Equipment International 2019 (DSEI), the Campaign Against Arms Trade has published new figures showing the extent of public opposition to the sale of arms.

Protesters campaigning against the DSEI arms fair
Protesters campaigning against the DSEI arms fair

Image: Darren Johnson

Imogen Benson

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), has published new polling results that highlight the extent of public opposition to the sale of arms.

Today (10 September), Defence and Security Equipment International 2019 (DSEI) – one of the world’s largest arms fairs – opens at the ExCeL centre in London, with the support of the Ministry of Defence and the Department of International Trade. 

According to CAAT’s survey, the UK public is less than enthused by the prospect of the arms fair taking place on UK soil once again, with 70 per cent of UK adults opposing the government’s role in promoting arms exports to countries with poor human rights records. 

In particular, 64 per cent of those surveyed were opposed to the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia – the biggest buyer of UK-made weapons. Although the Court of Appeals ruled in June that the government had acted unlawfully in licensing the sale of UK-made arms to Saudi forces, recent figures revealed that the UK Government has supplied £6.3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the start of the war in Yemen.  

Along with representatives from Saudi Arabia, the DSEI guest list includes representatives from seven other countries on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s list of ‘human rights priority countries’, including Bahrain, Colombia and Egypt.

60 per cent of those surveyed said that the government should not be involved in organising arms fairs that human rights abusing regimes are invited to. 

Andrew Smith of CAAT said: “Particularly when there is an election on the horizon, it’s time for politicians to listen to the people and finally stop putting arms company profits ahead of human rights.

“DSEI will see all of the biggest arms companies brought together with many of the world’s most authoritarian regimes. It exists for one reason only, and that is to sell even more weapons, regardless of the appalling consequences. None of this could happen without the complicity and support of the UK Government. It will be UK civil servants that are welcoming buyers, and UK ministers will be using it as a platform to sing the praises of arms companies and the dictatorships in attendance.

“Over the last four and a half years, UK-made weapons have played a central role in the brutal Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen. The arms sales being negotiated in London this week could be used in atrocities and abuses for years to come.”

Last Friday, Green Party MEPs Ellie Chowns and Catherine Rowett joined protestors campaigning against DSEI in a demonstration centred around the theme of ‘climate justice’, highlighting the link between oil, climate change and the arms trade

The protests, organised by campaign group Stop the Arms Fair, will be running throughout the week at the Excel centre in east London. 

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