Minister defends Britain's role in arms trade

Britain plays a huge role in the international arms industry.
Britain plays a huge role in the international arms industry.

By Oliver Hotham

Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt has defended Britain's role in the international arms trade.

In a hearing before the Commons' foreign affairs committee examining the UK's response to last year's Arab Spring, Mr Burt argued the arms trade has value and is governed by strict rules which prevented Britain supplying Gulf states with tools for repression.

He denied allegations that British-supplied arms had been used by the government of Bahrain to suppress protests in last year's Arab Spring, saying the weapons supplied had been for border control.

The responsibility for overseeing such transactions lay with the foreign affairs committee, he said, in a heated exchange with committee member Ann Clwyd during the hearing.

However the minister accepted that, with regards to the arms Britain supplies Gulf states, "none of it is very nice" and that Britain was indeed involved in "supplying things people might find uncomfortable".

Britain cannot rule out "difficult trade", he added.

The Foreign Office minister also denied claims that British ally Saudi Arabia had been involved with repression in Bahrain.

Last year's protests in Bahrain saw the government use deadly force against peaceful protesters, with 84 dead and thousands wounded. It has been alleged that arms used by the government were supplied by British arms dealers.

Britain is the world's fifth largest exporter of arms and British company BAE Systems is one of the world's largest arms developers.


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