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Ministry faces court fight on riot gear sales to US

THE BRITISH government is facing legal action over riot gear exports to the US after Scotland voted to endorse a ban this week. 

In a bid to stop sales of equipment including CS gas, tear gas and rubber bullets to the US following outrage over President Donald Trump’s brutal crackdown on anti-racist protesters, lawyers have begun the first steps in a potential High Court battle. 

The pre-action protocol letter, sent to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, asks for confirmation of whether a decision has been made over the suspension of licences which allow firms to export such equipment to the US.

It also sets out potential grounds for a legal challenge if the government refuses to suspend export licences, stating that lawyers will argue such a decision would be unlawful.

The action is being brought by a black British citizen, who does not wish to be identified at this stage.

The proposed claimant attended university in the US and has friends there said to have been attacked by police during protests.

The claimant added: “I’m outraged that the UK is playing any role in arming the US police departments as they forcefully repress their people and disregard the humanity of black people in a show of flagrant racism.

“I have heard their horrifying accounts of what is happening on the ground and each day I am scared that I will get news that one of them is fatally injured. It seems only a matter of time.

“Our government needs to break its silence, stop being complicit and take action, now.”

Ms Truss also received two similar letters last week, and concerns have been raised about a lack of response from ministers. 

One, from Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry, requested the suspension of exports of riot-control equipment to the US, pending a review of whether they are being used in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. 

The other, signed by a cross-party group of 166 MPs, called for an immediate end to exports including tear-gas and rubber bullets to the US while an investigation takes place. 

Legal representatives say those looking to bring the case have become increasingly concerned by the “excessive militarised police response” to protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota. 

Ugo Hayter, a partner at Deighton Pierce Glynn who is leading the litigation, said: “Last week Boris Johnson was clear in proudly stating that ‘all exports are conducted in accordance with the consolidated guidance, and the UK is possibly the most scrupulous country in that respect in the world.’

“My client invites our Prime Minister to make good that claim and take immediate action to suspend these exports from the UK to the US.”

These latest calls follow a vote in the Scottish Parliament to endorse an amendment calling a halt to the sale of riot gear to the US. 

Following the endorsement of Green MSP Patrick Harvie’s motion, campaigners have said it is “time for Westminster to act.” 

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “This is a welcome and important statement of leadership from the Scottish Parliament. 

“It sends a very clear message and sets an important precedent.”

A British government spokeswoman said: “We consider all our export applications thoroughly against a strict risk-assessment framework and keep all licences under careful and continual review as standard. This, of course, applies to our exports to the US.

“The UK takes its export-control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust and transparent export-control regimes in the world.

“We rigorously examine each export licence application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria.”

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