- The US is one of the world’s largest buyers of UK arms
- Arms licences include small arms, ammunition, tear gas and ‘crowd control ammunition’
- A lot of equipment sold under secretive open license system – so we will never know the total value
Campaigners have called on the UK government to end the sale of repressive equipment to police forces across the US and investigate if any of it has been used against protesters. Over recent days there have been appalling scenes of police violence and repression following protests against the killing of George Floyd.
The US is one of the world’s largest buyers of UK arms, with almost £6 billion worth of arms licensed since 2010. This includes all weapons categories. The end user is not published, so no distinction is made between the military and police, but it is likely that some will be police forces.
Since 2010 the UK has licensed £18 million worth of ammunition. Categories that are particularly likely to be for police use include smoke/pyrotechnic ammunition, smoke canisters, crowd control ammunition, CS hand grenades, tear gas/irritant ammunition, tear gas/riot control agents etc.
The sales of tear gas and ‘crowd control ammunition’ was done via the opaque and secretive Open Licence system. This means that the value of exports is not published and nor is the end user. These licences allow for an unlimited volume of equipment to be exported over a fixed-term period (usually five years). In total, three licences were approved for this equipment.
The UK has licensed £800 million worth of small arms to the US since 2010, a proportion of which is likely to be for police forces. This includes assault rifles, sniper rifles and other guns.
Since 2010 the UK has licensed £2 million worth of Security and para-military police goods, this includes anti-riot shields and other equipment that could be for police use.
According to the consolidated criteria for arms exports “The government will not grant a licence if there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said:
The brutal and racist police violence we have seen over recent days has been absolutely appalling, and so has the reckless and totally irresponsible escalation from the President and his colleagues.
These arms sales should never have been allowed and the government must ensure that they do not happen again. This kind of equipment is always repressive, and it can be deadly. There must be an urgent investigation into what weapons have gone over and if any of them have been used against protesters.
Silence in the face of such injustice is complicity. We are always being told about the great relationship and influence that Boris Johnson has with the White House. If that is the case, then he must use it to condemn the violence in the strongest terms and call for widespread and structural change.
Police violence and racism is not new, and nor is it exclusive to the US. Many of these issues will be familiar to people in the UK and beyond. It is time for police forces and politicians from across the world to consider their own roles and the systematic inequality that they are responsible for.