Revealed: £1bn of taxpayers’ cash to help foreign countries buy British arms

The government has quietly drawn up proposals to lend other countries £1bn of public money so that they can buy British-made bombs and surveillance technology.

The move has been attacked by arms-control campaigners who say that taxpayers’ cash may end up fuelling conflict and human rights abuses.

The plan was revealed in a single sentence slipped into this month’s budget. Unveiling a new £2bn lending facility for projects supporting clean growth, the government also announced the creation of “a new £1bn (fund) to support overseas buyers of UK defence and security goods and services”.

It is understood that the fund will be overseen by UK Export Finance, which gives loans to help foreign countries, especially those with developing economies, buy British goods and services.

“Even in times of crisis, the government is showing that it will go to any length to sell as many weapons as possible,” said Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade. “The arms deals being supported with this money could be used in enabling atrocities and abuses for years to come. Government should be regulating and controlling arms sales, not using public money and doing everything it can to promote them.”

The government sees the defence industry as a major contributor to Britain’s post-Brexit economy. The Department for International Trade has a specialist team to promote UK arms sales.

In 2018, the latest figures available, the UK won arms contracts worth £14bn. Between 2008 and 2018 the UK was the second biggest arms exporter in the world, with 19% of the market share. Three-fifths of arms sales over the period went to the Middle East.

Some £5.3bn of arms have been licensed to Saudi Arabia since the war in Yemen began. There are concerns that the Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting Houthi rebels in the country, may have committed human rights violations by targeting civilian infrastructure.

Smith said the crisis in Yemen showed how policies to promote UK arms sales could backfire: “Over the last five years we have seen the devastating impact of UK-made fighter jets, bombs and missiles on Yemen. The war has killed tens of thousands of people, and created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. Those arms sales need to end now, but so do the policies that allowed them to happen in the first place.”

The Treasury did not respond to requests for comment.

The Guardian

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