Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world, official government figures show – with most of the weapons fuelling deadly conflicts in the Middle East. The UK has sold more arms than Russia, China, or France on average over the last 10 years. Only the United States is a bigger exporter. Two-thirds of UK weapons have been sold to Middle Eastern countries since 2010.
Since 2010 Britain has also sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House "Freedom in the world" report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list. A joint analysis conducted by the Independent and Campaign Against the Arms Trade found £10bn in arms licences were issued 2010-2015 to regimes designated “unfree” by Freedom House, including China, Oman, Turkmenistan and UAE. Meanwhile, £7.9bn worth of arms were sold to countries on the “human rights priority countries” list, which is maintained by the Foreign Office and includes countries judged by the FCO to have “the worst, or greatest number of, human rights violations”. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade warned that the dependence of British exporters on unsavory regimes could make the UK less likely to intervene against human rights violators. “These regimes aren't just buying weapons, they're also buying political support and legitimacy. How likely is the UK to act against human rights violations in these countries when it is also profiting from them?” Smith said.
The Government has ignored calls to stop selling weapons to repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, which has been accused by UN bodies of potentially committing war crimes in its military operation in Yemen against Houthi rebels. Both the European Parliament and the House of Commons International Development Committee have called for exports to the autocracy to stop.