6 Apr 2011

Britain's charming arms deals

CS gas, tear gas, shotguns, smoke hand grenades, stun grenades, and riot ‘control agents’. What a charming pot pourri of anti-protestor equipment.

Where can such a cargo have been destined for? Bahrain, no less. Yes, this was just some of a British defence shipment last year to the beleaguered regal dictatorship.

We are indebted to an all-party committee of MPs for casting their eyes across what it is that the UK exports in the way of weaponry. Their report published yesterday details shipments to the North African and Middle Eastern states that are currently the scene of pro-democracy revolts.

Bahrain has proved an awkward number given its pivotal status as a significant stepping stone into Saudi Arabia. Britain has enjoyed an exceptionally-close relationship with the Gulf State.

The pro-democracy protests caught UK diplomats and politicians on the hop. It was fine shipping potentially repressive equipment so long as the population was quiescent. Suddenly it wasn’t.

Bahrain was not alone. The MPs tell us that small arms ammunition and machine pistols were sent to Tunisia.  Egypt went one better, the UK authorities approved the export of fully-fledged machine guns. The Saudis got armoured personnel carriers – which were incidentally deployed to ferry Saudi troops into Bahrain to put down the pro-democracy protests. Syria, Yemen, and Libya too were the recipients of materials that could be deployed, or probably already have been deployed to oppress the people.

Hindsight is an easy facility. One wonders how many other regimes HMG is now assessing to see whether we should still be arming them.

Above all, the MPs conclude, it doesn’t much matter which party is in power in Britain, export permits varied little between one British government and another.

Tweets by @jonsnowC4