Ministers wined and dined by arms trade hours after MPs demand ban on selling weapons to Saudi Arabia

Tickets to the arms trade banquet cost as much as £450 a head

Jon Stone
Wednesday 03 February 2016 12:53 GMT
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, attended the dinner (File photo)
Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, attended the dinner (File photo) (Getty Images)

Ministers were wined-and-dined by the arms trade at a £450-a-head banquet on Tuesday night just hours after MPs called for a halt to weapons sales to autocratic Saudi Arabia.

Parliament’s International Development Committee yesterday said the UK should suspend all arms sales to Saudi, which has been accused by the UN of targeting civilians and contributing to a “humanitarian disaster” in Yemen.

The same day MPs released their report calling for action against Saudi, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and other ministers attended the ADS trade association dinner at the Hilton.

The ADS Group, a trade body for the defence industry, said in a statement posted on social media that Mr Fallon had provided “tremendous support” for its operations at the dinner.

Despite calls from the UN, aid groups, and now Parliament, ministers have insisted that selling bombs to the petro-state is not problematic. David Cameron has also personally endorsed the present of UK military advisors working alongside the dictatorship’s military.

The British arms trade has cashed in on Saudi’s ongoing military operation in Yemen, with sales of bombs surging from £9 million to over £1 billion in just three months last year.

Members of ADS include BAE Systems, which builds the Eurofighter and the Tornado, both of which are being used in Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign.

Raytheon UK, another member, makes the Paveway guided bombs which are being used in the assault, while MBDA makes Brimstone missiles, which Saudi Arabia also has stockpiles of.

Civilian targets hit by Saudi Arabia include two international hospitals operated by Médecins Sans Frontières, a wedding, and at leave five schools. Saudi Arabia says it does not target civilians.

Good relations with ministers are valuable for the arms industry because ministers ultimately sign off all arms export licences required by law to send defence equipment abroad. Ministers are currently resisting pressure to add Saudi Arabia to the blacklist of countries.

Last year the banquet was attended by over 40 MPs, with the full scale of attendance this year still not known.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said the dinner illustrated the political connections between the arms trade and politicians.

“The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is getting worse. 14 million Yemeni people are facing food insecurity and 1.4 million children are acutely malnourished,” he said.

“At the same time, arms dealers that are profiting from the devastation will be swilling champagne and sitting down to dinner with many of the politicians that support them.

“The fact that over 40 MPs attended as guests of arms companies and arms trade lobby groups last year is a disgrace and shows the extent of the arms trade's connections and political lobbying.”

Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS) trade association event was £252 for members and £462 for non members, according to a booking form of the event.

When previously asked about arms export control to Saudi Arabia, a Government spokesperson said: “We operate one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control regimes in the world with each licence application assessed on a case by case basis, taking account of all relevant information, to ensure compliance with our legal obligations. No licence is issued if it does not meet these requirements.

“We regularly raise with Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Houthis, the need to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) in Yemen. We monitor the situation carefully and have offered the Saudi authorities advice and training in this area."

In reference to Mr Fallon's attendence at the dinner, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “It is nonsense to suggest that this engagement is directly linked to exports to one country. This is the annual dinner of a forum that represents hundreds of organisations that sustain tens of thousands of UK jobs across aerospace, space and defence.”

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