Over half of UK arms exports sold to repressive regimes, as licences soar to record levels in 2022

New data for UK arms export licences show a record total value of £8.5 billion in SIEL licences, with the majority going to authoritarian regimes.

  • The value of Single Individual Export Licences (SIELs) issued in 2022 was more than double the 2021 level, at £8.5 billion.
  • Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United States were the biggest recipients, with 32%, 13.4%, and 10.1% of the value of SIELs respectively.
  • Licences to Saudi Arabia included £938 million worth of air-to-surface missiles, and components for bombs, such as have been regularly used in the bombing of Yemen.
  • Over half of the value of licences were issued for sales to countries rated “Not Free” in 2022 by Freedom House

On Thursday, the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) published its latest data on export licences for military and dual-use goods, covering the last quarter of 2022, and with it, full-year data for 2022. Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has now completed an initial analysis of the data, which is now available in a much more detailed and usable form on its online data browser.

After two years of falls, the total value of Single Individual Export Licences (SIELs) issued for military goods more than doubled to £8.5 billion in 2022, the highest level ever recorded since the UK started publishing such statistics in the early 2000s. Of this total, 54% was for exports to countries rated “Not Free” by Freedom House, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Türkiye.

The largest destination for SIELs by value was Qatar, with a value of £2.7 billion, mostly relating to Typhoon combat aircraft (£2.4 billion), the first three of which were delivered in August 2022. Second was Saudi Arabia with £1.1 billion, most of which was in the category ML4 (bombs, missiles, and countermeasures), accounting for £964 million. This included a licence worth £698 million for “components for bombs”, and another for £240 million for “air-to-surface missiles”. These are likely to represent weapons for Saudi Arabia’s UK-supplied Typhoon and Tornado combat aircraft, frequently used in the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. While an uneasy truce currently holds in Yemen, without a peace deal the danger of a return to full-scale conflict remains.

After the two Gulf states came the USA (£860 million), Türkiye (£424 million), and Ukraine (£401 million). The bulk of the value of licences for Ukraine were for ML5 (radars, sensors, targeting systems etc.) at £113m., ML13 (body armour, helmets, etc.) – £86m, ML11 (“other electronic equipment”), £85m, and ML6 (armoured vehicles and components) – £61m. However, most UK arms supplies to Ukraine in 2022 were donated by the Ministry of Defence from the UK military’s own stocks. Such MOD donations do not require an export licence, although they are evaluated according to the same criteria as for export licences.

SIELs are the most common type of export licence, and the only one for which a value is reported. CAAT estimates that slightly over half of UK arms exports are conducted using “open” licences, which allow for unlimited exports of the equipment covered by the licence to specified countries. CAAT has long argued that this represents a major gap in transparency in UK arms exports.

Sam Perlo-Freeman, Research Coordinator at CAAT, said:

The latest export licence figures for 2022 show that the UK arms industry is working overtime to arm some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes, as well as countries engaged in armed conflict, with the UK government’s full approval. Despite its repeated claims to operate a “rigorous and robust” system of export controls, their record show a complete lack of concern for human rights or the harm caused by UK arms to civilians in conflict zones, with the interests of the arms industry almost always coming first.


For more information, call Sam Perlo-Freeman on 07354 798923, email [email protected]

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