The UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox mounted an impassioned defense of the country's arms industry on the opening day of Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEI), one of the world's biggest weapons trade exhibitions.
Fox hailed the UK arms export sector for its contribution to the UK economy. He noted Britain was a global leader in defense, and this should not only be celebrated, but government and industry "must work to defend and promote" the sector.
Fox also stressed that nations have an inalienable right to look after their own defense.
"Those who trade from advanced economies must remember if we did not provide countries with the means of defending themselves, then we would see the proliferation of uncontrolled and unregulated arms sales free from oversight or inhibition. To allow such a situation to develop would be vastly irresponsible," he said.
He however made no mention of the UK's huge sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a savage and sustained bombing campaign in Yemen since 2015.
Andrew Smith, a spokesperson for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), told Sputnik that economic arguments for the arms trade weak.
"UK defense sector is tiny in terms of the overall economy, accounting for 0.2 percent of jobs in the country. Yet, it attracts top talent and huge amounts of state support — we want to see this talent, and these funds, used for a positive purpose."
Commenting on the minister's statement, Mr. Smith also said:
"Fox spoke of self-defense, but really we have no idea how these weapons will be used once they've been purchased. Moreover, it's clear these weapons are not used for self-defense. In Yemen, British-made weapons are killing Yemeni civilians, for instance."
DSEI features 1,500 international exhibitors, marketing arms ranging from sniper rifles to tanks and warships — they are joined by trade visitors and military delegations from the world over. The controversial event has been dogged in its buildup by persistent protests, with thousands attempting to blockade weapons companies from accessing the ExCel center in London's Docklands area, and setting up stands.
The trade exhibition follows mere days after it was revealed that in the 22 months since the Conservative party won the 2015 election, UK arms manufacturers exported almost US$6.6 billion (£5 billion) worth of weapons to countries judged to be repressive.
The vast receipts are largely attributable to a rise in orders from Saudi Arabia — but many other countries, which the UK government itself has subjected to embargoes and sanctions (including Azerbaijan, Venezuela and China) have also been major buyers.
CAAT found that of the 49 countries classed as "not free" by Freedom House, 36 have bought UK-made weapons since 2015.
Over this period, Saudi Arabia has agreed orders for more than US$5 billion (£3.75 billion) worth of British defense equipment mainly bombs and fighter aircraft — up from US$212 million (£160 million) in the 22 months prior to the election. Even when Riyadh's orders are excluded from the figures, arms exports to repressive governments have almost doubled over the 22-month period.
"You can either promote human rights and democracy or you can promote arms sales. You can't do both," Mr. Smith told Sputnik.