Arms trade campaigners are taking the government to court over the failure to suspend or revoke export licences for military equipment to Israel. Lawyers representing the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) have told the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) that the failure to freeze the licences was unlawful since there was a risk the equipment would be deployed in Gaza.
Andrew Smith, of CAAT, told The Guardian: “The UK government’s response to the bombardment of Gaza was unacceptable. Vince Cable [the business secretary] himself oversaw a review that identified 12 licences for arms that he accepted were likely to have been used in Gaza. Cable refused even to suspend them at the time, saying that he would only do so if the violence continued. The violence continued, more people died, and yet he failed to follow through on his word.”
Rosa Curling of law firm Leigh Day, acting for CAAT, told the paper: “The decision by BIS not to suspend or revoke the 12 existing licences is unlawful. The review that was conducted by the department was flawed as it envisaged considering whether weapons have been used at the point at which ‘significant hostilities’ resume. This is too late.
“The licensing criteria are very clear – that licences should be revoked if there is a clear risk that equipment might be used in violation of international humanitarian law or internal repression. This must be assessed at the time the licensing decision is made. The government must now look at this with urgency and comply with the law on arms export to ensure that UK arms are not responsible for breaches of international law.”
There have been numerous calls for an arms embargo since Israel launched its unprecedented assault on the Gaza Strip, including by Amnesty, Deputy PM Nick Clegg, and the Trades Union Congress. In August, the chair of the parliamentary select committees overseeing British arms wrote to the foreign secretary “requesting details of any military exports that may have been used by the Israeli army during its invasion of Gaza.”