The Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail newspaper is reporting that Britain allowed companies to sell chemicals to Syria capable of being used to make nerve gas.
According to the newspaper, the chemical export licences were granted by Business Secretary Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last January – 10 months after the Syrian uprising began. They were only revoked six months later, when the European Union imposed tough sanctions on Assad’s regime.
Labour MP Thomas Docherty, who sits on the House of Commons’ Committees on Arms Export Controls, told the Daily Record: “At best it has been negligent and at worst reckless to export material that could have been used to create chemical weapons. MPs will be horrified and furious that the UK Government has been allowing the sale of these ingredients to Syria. What the hell were they doing granting a licence in the first place? I would like to know what investigations have been carried out to establish if any of this material exported to Syria was subsequently used in the attacks on its own people.”
Mark Bitel of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (Scotland) said: “The UK Government claims to have an ethical policy on arms exports, but when it comes down to practice the reality is very different. The Government is hypocritical to talk about chemical weapons if it’s granting licences to companies to export to regimes such as Syria. We saw David Cameron, in the wake of the Arab Spring, rushing off to the Middle East with arms companies to promote business.”
In response The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills issued the following statement: “The UK Government operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world. An export licence would not be granted where we assess there is a clear risk the goods might be used for internal repression, provoke or prolong conflict within a country, be used aggressively against another country or risk our national security. When circumstances change or new information comes to light, we can – and do – revoke licences where the proposed export is no longer consistent with the criteria.”