What does Brexit mean for the arms trade?
More arms deals?
Then Prime Minister Theresa May’s search for post-Brexit trade deals saw an unwelcome focus on selling arms to some of the world’s most repressive regimes. Just months after the June 2016 referendum, she secured a £100million fighter jet deal with a Turkish government under President Erdogan that, since a failed coup attempt in July 2016, had purged over a hundred thousand workers from state jobs and arrested thousands. More journalists are imprisoned in Turkey than in any other country.
Emphasising that he would like to see more such deals, Michael Fallon, then Defence Secretary, told delegates at the DSEI arms fair in September 2017 that the UK would will “spread its wings across the world” with increased arms and equipment exports after Brexit.
It is not just the Government either. In August 2016 the ADS, a trade body for arms companies, told Bloomberg: “Europe will continue to be important, but there are perhaps other areas where there is now a bigger incentive to develop longer-term relationships… Brexit provides the circumstances and the catalyst for faster and more efforts.”
What about UK export controls?
Each EU member state has its own export licensing system, but since 2008 each state is legally bound by common criteria. Some non-EU European countries have also adopted these.
The UK government considers applications for licences for the export of military equipment against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. This incorporates the EU criteria, but since these were actually based on earlier UK ones, change is not expected, at least in the short term.
What are the implications for the remaining 27 EU members?
The EU evolved from a Franco-German initiative to promote peace on the European continent. However, in recent years, the EU has been rapidly militarising. In many ways the UK held this back, with UK governments believing that military matters are the preserve of individual member states as well as being concerned about the implications for NATO. The arms companies see more military involvement by the EU as an opportunity.