Shadow foreign secretary pledges change to secretive licensing system
LABOUR will overhaul the way decisions are made on arms sales, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry pledged yesterday.
Ms Thornberry said that decision-making on export licences was subjective and “shrouded in secrecy.”
Ministers are also vulnerable to lobbyists, she told the Labour conference.
She said that Labour would fully implement the International Arms Trade Treaty and set clear rules, tests and criteria for decisions.
Objective assessment of evidence and expert advice would also be taken into account and Parliament would have the chance to scrutinise decisions.
Ms Thornberry said: “Two months ago, we had the ludicrous situation where the campaigners trying to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen had their judicial review rejected on the basis of government evidence presented in closed court, a secret court, so they were not even allowed to hear the evidence, let alone challenge it.
“The fact is that arms export decisions made by Tory ministers are entirely subjective assessments taken without proper parliamentary scrutiny without listening to independent, expert advice, but listening far too much to lobbyists for the arms trade and repressive foreign regimes.
“A process that leads to nonsensical double standards, where the government can decide too late that selling arms to Myanmar is wrong but immediately increase its sales to Saudi.
“It is an arms control regime that was already outdated, but which the Tories have systematically abused, undermined and left fatally discredited.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade praised the Labour front bench for taking a strong stance against the status quo.
He said: “For decades now, governments of all political colours have talked about the importance of human rights while arming repressive regimes and dictatorships.
“Tony Blair, for example, was just as happy to push arms sales as his Tory predecessors.”
Human rights charity Reprieve said it received documents from the College of Policing last year showing that Britain was training Saudi officers in digital forensics skills that the college feared could be “used to identify individuals who later go on to be tortured.”
Reprieve director Maya Foa said: “If we are to prevent taxpayers’ money from enabling rights violations like these, UK security assistance overseas should be subjected to stronger human rights conditions and proper parliamentary scrutiny.”