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Britain's decade as world's second largest arms exporter a ‘source of great shame’

Peace campaigners remind government that weapons sales are ‘not just numbers on a spreadsheet’ while Labour's Zarah Sultana says Britain has become a world-leader in aiding and abetting horrific wars and repression

BRITAIN has remained the globe’s second largest arms exporters for a decade — with the majority of its weapons sold to fuel devastating conflicts in the Middle East. 

According to the latest official figures, Britain holds almost a fifth (16 per cent) of the global arms trade, falling behind only the United States, which had an estimated 47 per cent share in 2019.

Of the weapons sold since 2010, almost 60 per cent were imported by Middle Eastern countries, the vast majority to Saudi Arabia. 

The figures, published today by the Department for International Trade, show the government licensed £11bn in contracts for military equipment and services in 2019. 

“On a rolling 10-year basis, the UK remains the second largest global defence exporter after the USA,” the department boasted in a statement. 

But campaigners said the figures should be “source of great shame,” not celebration. 

Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade said: “[Prime Minister] Boris Johnson and his colleagues are always talking about ‘global Britain’ and the importance of human rights and democracy, but they are arming and supporting repression around the world. 

“These sales are not just numbers on a spreadsheet: for people around the world they could be a matter of life and death. UK-made weapons have played a devastating role in the Saudi-led bombing of Yemen, helping to create the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of British-made arms. In 2019 the government was forced to halt new arms licences to the gulf state after the Court of Appeal found the sales unlawful, but these were resumed again earlier this year. 

The latest figures also prompted criticism of the British government’s escalated attacks on asylum-seekers, including new laws that would deny people the right to seek asylum if they enter the country illegally. 

“The UK is arming and fuelling wars around the world while scapegoating and demonising the victims of those wars,” Mr Smith said. “There is not a ‘migration crisis:’ there is a crisis of war, poverty and inequality and the UK government has fuelled and exacerbated it.”

Labour MP for Coventry South Zarah Sultana said the figures revealed Britain to be a world-leader in aiding and abetting horrific wars and brutal repression.

"It should be a national scandal that while the Saudi-led coalition is waging a catastrophic war in Yemen, the Saudi regime is by far the largest buyer of UK-made weapons," Ms Sultana said.

“This is happening at the same time as the Home Secretary is threatening to deploy military vessels in the Channel, in an attempt to drive-up fear about desperate people fleeing to the country.

“Instead of exporting weapons of war abroad and scapegoating migrants at home, we should be promoting peace, justice and compassion on the world’s stage.”

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