David Cameron has insisted he made “no apology” for flying to the Gulf to bang the drum for British defence firms despite the poor human rights record in the region.
The Prime Minister faced heavy criticism for his three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates last week, which was partly aimed at clinching orders for Typhoon jets.
Amnesty International accused him of a “deeply-disturbing trade-off” between trade and strategic interests and the promotion of human rights.
But delivering the annual Mansion House speech, Mr Cameron retorted: “We must support all sectors of the economy where we have a comparative advantage - and that includes defence.”
He said he understood why some critics were “a bit squeamish” about defence deals, but he insisted Britain had the most rigorous arms export licensing regime in the world.
He added: “Every country in the world has a right to self-defence. And you cannot expect every country to be self-sufficient in providing the tanks, ships and planes needed.
“So when Britain has a very strong defence industry, with 300,000 jobs depending on it, it’s right we should be at forefront of this market, supporting British jobs and British allies.”
He said 300,000 jobs depended on the Typhoon contracts, which are worth around £6bn.
In the speech, regarded as the Prime Minister’s main foreign affairs address of the year, he argued that Britain had to fight vigorously for a share of trade in rapidly-growing export markets.
Since coming to office, he has led trade missions to Africa, Indonesia, China, India, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Japan and Malaysia.
“I know there are some people who say that's not real foreign policy. Or worse still, it's just globetrotting. But I say there is a global race out there to win jobs for Britain and I believe in leading from the front. So I make no apology for linking Britain to the fastest growing parts of the world.”
He announced the appointment of trade envoys to promote British businesses in Mexico, South Africa, Morocco, Indonesia, Kuwait, Vietnam, Algeria and Kazakhstan.
He also mounted a strong defence of the City of London against critics whom he accused of wanting to “trash” the banks.
He pointed out that the financial services sector contributes one-eighth of Britain’s tax revenue and underpins jobs for two million people.
“Yes, some utterly terrible mistakes were made and they need to be addressed properly so they can never happen again.
“But those who think the answer is just to trash the banks, would end up trashing Britain,” Mr Cameron said.
“I say - recognise the enormous strength and potential of our financial sector, regulate it properly and get behind it.”
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