UKEF support for arms sales under fire

(London Review of Books, London, 26 April 2018) Arms exports constitute around 1.6% of total UK exports in value but receive 50% of export credits in the form of loans or guarantees, underwritten by the taxpayer. Almost half of British arms exports go to Saudi Arabia, up fivefold since the kingdom intervened in Yemen’s civil war. In July 2014, in an effort to pre-empt embarrassing revelations that might emerge from the UN’s decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the British foreign secretary made a tactical confession. Between 1983 and 1986, Britain had approved sales of chemical weapons precursors to Syria, which was known to be developing a massive weapons programme. William Hague told Parliament that the chemicals were probably ‘used by Syria in their programmes to produce nerve agents, including sarin’. In March 2015, the Committees on Arms Export Controls said that ‘the decision of the present government to give two export licence approvals for dual-use chemicals to Syria in January 2012 after the civil war had started in Syria in 2011 was irresponsible.’