An arms dealer suited and booted in formal black tie walked side-by-side with an injured serviceman on crutches as they entered East London's Troxy Hall for a large charity dinner. It was a curious sight; I couldn't help but wonder whether the two exchanged small talk before being seated. "Shrapnel from a cluster bomb? Decent weapon that one!"
The event was a large fundraiser for injured servicemen, organised by Team Army. Amongst the invited were the arms companies from DSEI - the 'world leading defence and security event' hosted this week in London - who advertised the dinner on their official site. The sponsors of the event were Lockheed Martin, the world's largest arms company who, amongst other things, make highly destructive cluster munitions that have been banned in all countries apart from the US and Israel.
A grateful recipient of a chunk of the funds raised was the Royal British Legion's Battle Back centre, a recovery facility "designed to accelerate physical, psychological and social recovery of wounded, injured and sick Service personnel". The Royal British Legion's silence in accepting the funds was bizarre if not unsurprising; nobody, it seems, was willing to raise the obvious question as to whether fewer squaddies would be killed, injured and traumatised should lethal weaponry not be sold unscrupulously to dictators and despots around the world. This irony seems to be lost on the Legion, who run a 'Never Forget' campaign to commemorate victims of the First World War, whilst dining with the leaders of an industry that thrives on death and destruction.
The Royal British Legion, however, are by no means alone in their hypocrisy; they are joined by large sections of the government and the media in their servile acceptance of a trade fair that profits from fear, brutality and repression.
MP Caroline Lucas is a notable exception, finding banned cluster bombs at the last event in 2011, and this year denouncing the illegal torture weapons that led to two companies being kicked out of the fair. Yet she seems to be a rare dissenting voice in arguing that: "it is frankly disgusting that items like this are being promoted at a supposedly legitimate trade event in Britain."
The selling of arms in London is more than just a legal question, however. It is a moral question, and one which severely undermines our legitimacy in commenting on human rights abuses around the globe. At the same time as discussing military intervention in Syria, our government extends a welcoming hand to Rostec, a Russian arms company that has provided 78% of the arms to Assad's regime. Also on the guest list at DSEI: authoritarian regimes such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, who have been identified by the FCO as serious human rights concerns. Amongst the items on sale at the fair was the teargas used against protestors in Egypt, Brazil and Turkey.
Boris Johnson's defence of the arms fair was particularly spineless, arguing that "it is only sensible to have legal weapons...it so happens that this country is an expert at making some of them." We can no longer continue to accept this as a sanitised 'trade fair' whilst the track record of the companies and countries involved continues to be exposed by brave campaigning groups such as Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). Our government denounces tyranny one moment then welcomes dictators to London to shop for arms the next. As one protest banner read, "this is not OK".Suggest a correction