Labour demands return of arms exports scrutiny

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament

Labour has called for the government to re-establish the parliamentary committee on arms export controls (CAEC), and warned that the continued failure to do so could have a “huge impact on conflicts around the globe”.

In a letter to Jacob Rees-Mogg today, the shadow minister for peace and disarmament Fabian Hamilton highlighted that the CAEC has not been convened in over six months since the 2019 general election.

He argued that a nine month period in which the committee failed to sit in 2015 resulted in a lack of scrutiny over the decision to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia – a decision later ruled to be unlawful.

The Leeds MP suggested that “existing standing orders may need to be amended in order to rectify the deficiency in establishing permanent oversight over the executive in an area vital to human rights”.

Hamilton wrote that “our weapons are our responsibility and the decisions where we sell them really must be allowed to be thoroughly scrutinised by MPs”. He put a number of specific questions to the House of Commons leader:

  • “When will the government re-constitute the CAEC and request its constituent select committees to choose members to sit on it?
  • “Does the government believe the CAEC should itself become a select committee?
  • “Will the government accept any recommendations the CAEC makes on future arms sales licences?
  • “What arrangements – if any – is the government making to align itself with the arms control processes of the European Union as part of the ongoing trade negotiations?”

Commenting on the letter, Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy tweeted: “It’s been six months since the general election and the committee that scrutinises arms exports hasn’t yet been re-established.

“We’re calling on government to get it up and running with delay. Our weapons are our responsibility. We must not be kept in the dark any longer.”

The CAEC scrutinises the government’s decisions to grant licenses for the sale of British weapons. This letter from Labour comes amid reports that licenses have continued to operate for Saudi Arabia, despite having been ruled unlawful.

Last year three court of appeal judges said that ministers – including the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – had signed off on the sale of British arms to Saudi Arabia in 2016 without properly assessing the risk to civilians.

In a letter to the government, Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade Emily Thornberry said: “We are left to assume that – despite being ordered to review these licences by the courts, and having 12 months to do so – your department has simply chosen not to comply.”

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