UK condemned over arms sales to repressive states

Protesters protect themselves from tear gas at a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on 28 September 2014. Photograph: Xaume Olleros/AFP/Getty Images

Former Tory defence secretary Sir John Stanley says government quietly relaxed controls on arms licences to ‘countries of concern’

Mark Townsend and Daniel Boffey

The government has been accused of dishonesty over arms sales as new figures reveal that the value of British weapons sales to “countries of concern” has already hit £60m this year. Former Tory defence minister Sir John Stanley, who chairs the Commons committees on arms export controls, says ministers failed to come clean on a “significant change in policy” that makes it easier to export arms to countries with a poor human rights record.

He said in a recent parliamentary debate that the government has not acknowledged that such a change has taken place, and it “should consider most carefully whether they should now offer an apology to the committees”.

The government used to reject arms export licences where there was concern they might be used for “internal repression”, but now a licence will be refused only if there is a “clear risk” that military equipment might be used in violation of international law.

Former Foreign Office minister Peter Hain, who established the strict criteria on arms sales, last night demanded that the government be transparent about the change and called for parliament to be allowed a vote. He said: “The present government has run a coach and horses through our arms export controls, circumventing the legislation we put in place by putting a particular spin on it. It has enabled them to sell arms to countries and for purposes that should not be allowed under the legislation.

“There is a clear policy in the legislation that arms should only be sold to countries for defensive purposes and not for internal suppression or external aggression. In the case of Gaza over the summer, that has clearly been flouted. Bahrain is another example.”

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