I gatecrashed a banquet for arms dealers because death and misery should never be considered 'business as usual'

They must know that ordinary people don't accept their skewed priorities

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The Independent Online

As I waited for the right moment to take the stage at last night's annual ADS dinner, I was surrounded by a world where luxurious dinners reward the business of selling the tools of death and repression. In a room full of leading politicians, civil servants and arms dealers, I began to wonder: which ones were responsible for what crimes?

Had the people in this room been among those who sold the weapons to Israel that were used in the assault on Gaza, which killed 2,105 Palestinians, and 495 children? Were they among those who had sold the tear gas used against democracy protesters in Hong Kong? Was it here that MPs were persuaded that renewing the UK's nuclear weapons is a necessity, or that buying useless aircraft carriers for billions of pounds was a good idea?

What about the UK weapons that have been used by oppressive governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Bahrain, and the sign this sends out? When the UK sells arms to tyrannies it acts as a signal of support for the human right abuses that are taking place in those countries.

I was seconds away from speaking in front of representatives from MBDA, a missile company that armed the Gaddafi regime; BAE Systems, which is Europe's biggest arms company. I wasn't on the speakers bill, I wasn't meant to be there, but I felt like I had to be there.

The ADS isn't just another trade body: it represents some of the biggest arms companies in the world. It spends a lot of time and money on lobbying politicians and trying to sell as many weapons as it can to anyone who will buy them. Along with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, I wanted to be there to make sure any illusions they had that they were working in a publicly acceptable business were well and truly shattered.


Their power is obvious. When I looked through the guest list it became apparent that there were over 40 MPs in the room, as well as lots of top ranking civil servants and Ministry of Defence personnel. It is this kind of access to politicians which means arms company interests are put before those of ordinary people.

I'm five months pregnant, and am worried that before my child can even talk, he will have lost opportunities. My local council is talking about closing children's centres and shutting its youth centres in the coming year. That's bad enough without even thinking about the loss of free further education, and how he'll manage to house himself in a post-austerity UK, or whether a decent job will still exist.

So for me, the reasons why I found the courage to stand up to hundreds of arms dealers as they lobbied our politicians for more military spending feel very personal. But I was there with others, many of whom stood in the freezing cold to challenge the arms dealers as they arrived.

We did it because these people profit from enabling and encouraging conflict, and from selling their weapons to some of the most oppressive governments in the world. The politicians help: they make sure the government pull out all stops to promote these arms companies and their deadly wares. In the last four years alone, the Coalition government has licensed £3.8bn worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, a dictatorship with an appalling human rights record.

I don't want my son to grow up in a world where arms dealers can make millions of pounds through encouraging war. I want him to grow up in a world with different priorities, a world that puts social and environmental justice ahead of militarism and war.

I am still wondering why the arms dealers clapped when I spoke. Some were certainly applauding the security as they managed to silence my challenge. For others, I think, clapping was a way of trying to neutralise what I was saying, of staying distant from their own humanity.

But I didn't go there expecting to change hearts or minds. I went there to make sure they knew that ordinary people don't accept their skewed priorities; that we will challenge and expose them as they influence the political agenda; that they can't expect to carry out their business as if it was any other.

I think it is possible to end the culture of militarism and war and to assert human needs over arms company interests. It starts when any of us stand up and say enough is enough.

You can follow Campaign Against Arms Trade at @CAATuk