London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he wants London's arms fair banned - but doesn't have the powers to stop it

'I am opposed to London being used as a market place for the trade of weapons to those countries that contribute to human rights abuses'

Jon Stone
Political Correspondent
Saturday 22 July 2017 14:20 BST
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan condemned the bi-annual fair
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan condemned the bi-annual fair (Getty)

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Sadiq Khan has said he opposes a controversial major international arms fair taking place in London – but that he does not have the powers to stop it from happening.

The Mayor of London said he was “opposed to London being used as a market place” for dictators and autocrats, who converge on the capital every two years to buy weapons at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI), the world’s biggest arms fair.

The event, which is next due to take place in September this year, lasts four days, and attracts over 34,000 attendees from the world’s arms companies, governments, and militaries.

Last year a court acquitted eight anti-arms trade protesters who tried to shut down the fair, ruling that there was “clear, credible and largely unchallenged evidence from the expert witnesses of wrongdoing at DSEI and compelling evidence that it took place in 2015”.

DSEI’s organisers says it complies with all laws and export controls imposed by the British government – but the British government allows the export of weapons to a number of countries with atrocious human rights records. Since 2010 ministers have issued licences for the sale of arms to 22 of the 30 countries on its own human rights watch list, and 39 of the 51 countries rated “not free” by the Freedom House NGO.

The Government most recently went to the High Court to defend its decision to continue arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite advice from the top civil servant in charge of export controls that they should be suspended as a precaution. At the last fair in 2015 the UK government invited authoritarian regimes including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain.

Asked about whether the event should go ahead, Mr Khan said: “The Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair is not an event that I support. ExCeL is a commercial space for hire.

“I am opposed to London being used as a market place for the trade of weapons to those countries that contribute to human rights abuses.”

Mr Khan’s position on the fair is in contrast to that of former Mayor Boris Johnson, who said in 2013 that DSEI was a “sensible” way to sell arms to governments. The former Mayor, who is now Foreign Secretary, told the Huffington Post at the time there was “very important that there should be access to legal weapons” and that there was “no question of illegality” at the event.

DSEI, which first opened its doors on September 11 2001, has been variously accused of hosting the sale of munitions including cluster bombs and electro-shock torture equipment.

Green Party London Assembly member Sian Berry, who first asked Mr Khan about DSEI, said London should not be “open” to such a trade.

“The Mayor is clearly almost as disgusted as I am at the prospect of illegal and immoral arms sales taking place within our city,” she said.

“We must be clear that London is open but not for the buying and selling of weapons that are used to abuse human rights. I hope he will make sure any sales of illegal arms that take place at this event are exposed and investigated.”

Activists welcomed the Mayor’s intervention. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “The Mayor is right to condemn DSEI. This is a sign of the growing opposition to the UK’s role in the global arms trade.

“London is a global city, and home to people from all over the world – including many that have suffered under the same human rights abusers and dictatorships that will be getting welcomed to DSEI.”

A spokesperson for DSEI said: “DSEI provides an effective platform for the defence and security industry to demonstrate its products to potential UK and overseas customers in a well regulated environment, which serves only the legitimate defence and security industry.

“All equipment exhibited at DSEI complies with UK, EU and international laws and treaties. Ultimately it is government policy and UK export control legislation which determines who can exhibit at or attend DSEI. Official overseas delegations at DSEI are invited by the Department for International Trade.”

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