Vince Cable blocks sale of military and intelligence equipment to Egypt as protest death toll mounts

Five export licences suspended over fears weapons are being used for internal suppression against its people

Five arms export licences to Egypt have been revoked by Britain following continuing violent clashes in the country involving the military in which dozens have been killed.

Business Secretary Vince Cable announced the move after consultations with the Foreign Office and a review of the licences following the violence which erupted after the deposing of the Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, by the army.

Earlier this week a highly critical report by the Committee on Arms Export Controls revealed details of military and intelligence equipment being sent under licences granted by the UK government to countries with a record of human-rights abuse.

The Committee’s chairman, Sir John Stanley, had written to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, asking if he was satisfied that the licences did not contravene the Government’s policy on not allowing arms exports which might be used for internal repression.

The Department for Business, Skills and Innovation said that the equipment covered by the five licences had all been destined for the army or the police. It included components for armoured personnel carriers, radio communications equipment, machine gun components, components for tracked armoured fighting infantry vehicles, and communications equipment for tanks.

There were 134 licences for strategically controlled items to Egypt worth more than £59m. Following yesterday’s suspensions, licences still remain valid for assault rifles, pistols, cryptographic equipment and command communications control and intelligence software.

Mr Cable said yesterday: “We are deeply concerned about the situation in Egypt and the events which have led to the deaths of protesters.

“All licences for exports of controlled goods to Egypt  have been assessed on a case-by-case basis against a range of internationally agreed, stringent criteria which take into account the circumstances at the time the licence application was made.

“However, as a result of the changing situation in Egypt, we have conducted a review of UK export licences to this country.”

Still, the bulk of the weapons delivered to the Egyptian military comes from the US, and that has continued with Barack Obama avoiding calling the overthrow of Mr Morsi a coup– the act by the military which would force the President to turn off supplies.

Although the British Government has remained overtly neutral in the current Egyptian crisis, the view among senior diplomats is that the army was forced to act because Mr Morsi was riding roughshod over the opposition in implementing an Islamist agenda, and his handling of the economy had brought it close to collapse.

Kaye Stearman, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, welcomed the revoking of the licences, but added: “We need to know why the other licences for military equipment still remain in use. Britain has not got a huge market in Egypt, so the export imperative can’t be too great.

“We believe every licence should be scrutinised and the delivery of arms halted while the unrest continues.”