Black Lives Matter protest in Seattle, May 2020

FAQ – UK export approvals

Following the murder of George Floyd, protests in the US against racism and police violence have been met with further state violence. The response in the UK has included anger at the potential role of the UK in supplying equipment that could be used to suppress protests. Here we try to answer some of the questions that have come up.

Last updated 28 May 2021

What ‘crowd control’ equipment has the UK government approved for export to the US?

Types of UK export licence

The UK government ‘controls’ the export of certain types of equipment, including arms, from the UK. Several types of licences are used to approve exports, with the three main ones being:

  • Single Individual Export Licences – SIELs. These allow the export of a fixed quantity of equipment to one specific destination. The licences are valid for two years.
  • Open Individual Export Licences – OIELs. These allow the export of unlimited quantities of specific equipment to one or more destinations. The licences are valid for three or five years.
  • Open General Export Licences – OGELs. These are drawn-up by the UK government and companies can register to use them. They allow unlimited quantities of specified equipment to specified destinations. They are valid indefinitely until altered or revoked.

UK arms export licences for the US

The UK and US weapon industries and militaries are tied closely together and there are substantial arms transfers both ways. Over the past five years, the UK government approved £2.8 billion of SIELs and 199 unlimited OIELs for the export to the US of items on the Military List (items specially designed or modified for military use).

UK protest suppression licences

The approved licences include many that specify or cover equipment for protest suppression. We have very little information about the end-user of relevant equipment, although a 2018 OIEL covering CS/tear gas equipment has a footnote stating the licence was “granted for Armed Forces and Law Enforcement agencies end use.

CS / tear gas

Since the start of 2015, four licences have been approved for the export of tear gas/irritant equipment to the US. These cross several equipment export ratings as classified by the EU & UK. The chemical agents themselves have the rating ML7, but they are classified as ML3 when turned into ammunition or ML4 when they become grenades.

Three of the licences are OIELs, meaning unlimited quantities could be transferred, and one was a SIEL. The relevant equipment is:

  • CS hand grenades (ML4 rating)
  • tear gas/irritant ammunition (ML3)
  • components for tear gas/irritant ammunition (ML3)
  • tear gas/riot control agents (ML7)
  • training CS hand grenades (ML4)
  • training tear gas/irritant ammunition (ML3)

In a 17 June 2020 response to a parliamentary question the government confirmed that the 2018 OIEL licence was ‘extant’, i.e. it was still valid and so exports specified by it could continue.

Crowd control ammunition

Rubber bullets, baton rounds, bean bags etc are classified as “crowd control ammunition”. These are included in the wider ammunition rating (ML3). Crowd control ammunition or components for it are included in two OIELs.

“Security and para-military police goods”

A large number of licences have been approved for “Anti-riot/ballistic shields” (rating PL5001). In a 17 June 2020 response to a parliamentary question the government stated that four of these licences were extant.

Other equipment that may be used by police forces

Grenade launchers (ML2), which could include “smoke, gas and ‘pyrotechnic’ projectors”

Smoke canisters and smoke/pyrotechnic ammunition (ML3)

Police batons are not controlled by the UK export licensing system.


In addition to the SIELs and OIELs, there are the OGELs. We don’t know what is likely to have been exported to the US under these.

In the parliamentary question response (17.6.2020), the government listed the extant Open General Export Licences that “have scope for riot control equipment and/or agents to be exported to the United States of America”.

These include one licence specific to the US:

and a number of others, which cover the US and other destinations, including:

  • Military Goods, Software and Technology: Government or NATO End-Use
  • EU General Export Authorisation (EU001)
  • Export For Exhibition: Military Goods / Export For Exhibition: Military Goods – from December 2019
  • Military Goods: For Demonstration / Military Goods: For Demonstration – from December 2019
  • Exports or transfers in support of UK Government Defence Contracts / Exports or transfers in support of UK Government Defence Contracts – from June 2019
  • Military Components
  • OGEL (Certified Companies)


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