People looking at a combat aircraft at an arms fair

Who buys UK arms?

UK arms are sold widely around the world. Export drives are determined by the ability of buyers to pay and their willingness to buy from the UK. The UK government applies token restrictions which they use to legitimise sales.

Last updated 26 September 2020

UK arms export regulations

The answer to the question ‘who buys UK arms?’ is, shockingly, almost anyone who is willing to pay. The government’s policy is to vigorously support the arms trade, so the regulations that exist are aimed at facilitating the trade rather than restricting it.

Arms exports to Saudi Arabia are a clear demonstration. Despite the Saudi military’s devastating attacks on Yemen and the regime’s terrible record on human rights, the UK has only ever refused a handful of applications for arms export licences. Since 2008, it has refused NO applications for the main type of export licence (Standard Individual Export Licences) to Saudi Arabia.

Some barriers do apply: there are international embargoes that the UK must abide by, put in place by either the UN or EU (until the end of of 2020). However, embargoes rarely involve major UK arms markets.



Every year the UK Government authorises the sale of arms to well over 100 countries across the globe.

Dabke dancing: crowd of activists with Palestine flags and signs dancing in traditional "Dabke" style with one arm raised and other bent on hips


The UK has consistently sold arms to Israel, in spite of its illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since 1967.

Photo c. Sharron Ward


Brazil is a significant UK arms customer and a growing arms producer. While Brazil's external relations are peaceful, extreme police violence against mostly black communities is rampant. Violence by illegal mining and foresting operators against indigenous peoples and environmental activists is also a serious problem, although the current government is increasing efforts to tackle this.

US aircraft carrier

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

United States

Racist policing and the activities of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement organization are responsible for severe human rights abuses. Externally, the US is engaged in multiple wars around the world, often alongside the UK.

The UK government’s arms promotion unit

There  is a UK government unit – Defence & Security Exports – that exists to help the arms and security industries sell their products around the world. It is effectively a trade association within government, coordinating Whitehall support for the sales for international companies.

Defence & Security Exports has a list of key markets. The most recent list comprises 53 countries, and these are only the main markets. They include  several countries from each of Europe; the Middle East; South, East and South East Asia; Africa; and South and North America.

Many more countries than this receive UK arms exports. The government approved arms export licences for well over 100 countries in 2019.


See also

Seven men in suits talking, all with short greying hair

Government support

The UK arms trade would not be possible without the unwavering support of the UK Government. It does not just oversee the arms trade. It is an active participant, working to promote and secure arms deals around the world, with little regard for the impact of these sales.

Human rights abuses

The UK arms repressive regimes around the world, contributing to human rights abuses and harming democratic progress


UK arms are sold to countries in conflict around the world, and are often used in these conflicts.

CAAT would not exist without its supporters. Each new supporter helps us strengthen our call for an end to the international arms trade.

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