UK
02/09/2013 06:58 BST | Updated 02/09/2013 07:26 BST

Vince Cable Allowed Syria Chemicals Sale 'Which Could Be Used For Chemical Weapons'

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08:  Business secretary Vince Cable walks through the foyer of the Hilton Metropole during the opening day of the Liberal Democrat spring party conference on March 8, 2013 in Brighton, England. The conference opens in the wake of several scandals within the party, but also after a successful by-election campaign in the constituency of Eastleigh.  (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Getty
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 08: Business secretary Vince Cable walks through the foyer of the Hilton Metropole during the opening day of the Liberal Democrat spring party conference on March 8, 2013 in Brighton, England. The conference opens in the wake of several scandals within the party, but also after a successful by-election campaign in the constituency of Eastleigh. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

Vince Cable could be dragged before MPs to explain why the government allowed chemicals to be traded between the UK and Syria months after violence broke out in the war-torn country.

The Department for Business issued licences for the export of sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to Syria last January before revoking them several months later. These chemicals are potentially able to be used to make nerve gas like sarin as well as being having industrial uses.

The Government said no chemicals were exported before the licence was revoked in June 2012 following EU sanctions but MPs said they intend to raise the issue at Westminster.

Nick Clegg defended the decision to grant chemical export licences to Syria, saying: "I think it's very important that everyone understands that these licenses were revoked, so these substances were not exported by British companies to Syria."

However, MPs have stated their intention to ask questions in Parliament about the exports issue.

This comes after the Huffington Post UK revealed on Friday that the UK exported nearly £2.2m in chemicals over the three months of April to June 2013.

Syria received nearly £624,000 in British exports of "machinery and transport equipment” during the same period and just over £200,000 in parts for "nuclear reactors and boilers" over May and June 2013.

Amnesty International UK's arms control expert Oliver Sprague told the Huffington Post UK: “Where licences have been issued because the products are sensitive, it’s important that extra safeguards are put in place to ensure that materials are not at risk of being converted for military use or other unintended uses. We’d like to know if that has been done.

The United States says it believes chemical weapons were used by Syrian president Bashar Assad's regime on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21. It put the death toll at 1,429, including 426 children.

The SNP's Angus Robertson said: "This is utter hypocrisy from the UK Government - deploring chemical weapons in public whilst approving the sale of items needed to make them.

"I will be raising this at Westminster as soon as possible to find out what examination the UK Government made of where these chemicals were going, and what they were to be used for. Approving the sale of chemicals which can be converted into lethal weapons during a civil war is a very serious issue."

"We need to know who these chemicals were sold to, why they were sold, and whether the UK Government were aware that the chemicals could potentially be used for chemical weapons."

Dunfermline and West Fife Labour MP Thomas Docherty said he plans to ask questions in Parliament and write to the business secretary.

Docherty said: “This would seem to be a case of breath-taking laxity – the Government has had a very lucky escape indeed that these chemicals were not sent to Syria.

“What was Mr Cable’s department doing authorising the sale of chemicals which by their own admission had a dual use as precursors for chemical weapons at a time when the Syria’s war was long under way?”

"At best it has been negligent and at worst reckless to export material that could have been used to create chemical weapons."

Chuka Umunna, Labour's shadow business secretary, said there were "very serious questions to answer as to why, in January 2012, export licences for chemicals to Syria which could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons were approved".

"It will be a relief that the chemicals concerned were never actually delivered," he said.

"But, in light of the fact the Assad regime had already been violently oppressing internal dissent for many months by the beginning of 2012 and the intelligence now indicates use of chemical weapons on multiple occasions, a full explanation is needed as to why the export of these chemicals was approved in the first place.

"This is important if confidence in the export licence process is to be maintained."

A Government spokesman said: "The UK Government operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world, and has been at the forefront of implementing an international sanctions regime on Syria.

"In January 2012, we issued licences for sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride. The exporter and recipient company demonstrated that the chemicals were for a legitimate civilian end use - which was for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames.

"Before any of the chemicals were exported, the licences were revoked following a revision to the sanctions regime which came into force on June 17 2012."