- Scottish Parliament has supported an amendment that condemns UK sales of tear gas, rubber bullets and ‘crowd control’ equipment to the US
- UK 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
This evening the Scottish Parliament voted by 52 votes to 0 (with 11 abstentions) to endorse an amendment moved by Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie, which, among other things, called on the UK government to stop the sale of tear gas, rubber bullets and other ‘crowd control’ equipment to the US.
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 to the US. 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:
This is a welcome and important statement of leadership from the Scottish Parliament. It sends a very clear message and sets an important precedent. Now it is time for Westminster to act.
The violence we have seen from police forces across the US has been appalling and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. There must be an urgent investigation into what UK weapons have gone over, and if any of them have been used against protesters. There must also be a guarantee that these types of weapons will not be sold again.
Police violence and racism are global issues. One reason why we have seen such a strong response to the brutal killing of George Floyd is because these issues are familiar to people around the world. While we stand in solidarity with campaigners in the US, it is also vitally important that we challenge the hypocrisy and complicity of governments like the one here in the UK.