The close relationship between arms companies and the UK government is again under scrutiny following a damning report into the crash of an RAF Nimrod aircraft in Afghanistan in 2006 , which caused the deaths of 14 people.
The report, by Charles Haddon-Cave QC, declared that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had sacrificed safety in order to cut costs. It accused the MoD, along with the arms companies BAE Systems and Qinetiq, of making a “lamentable job” of conducting a “safety review”.
The report names ten individuals considered to carry particular responsibility for the situation – five from the MoD and five from private arms companies.
The Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, apologised profusely to the victims’ families yesterday (28 October).
Haddon-Cave’s conclusions are likely to raise further questions about the government’s closeness to private arms companies and ministers’ willingness to rely on them.
BAE’s public relations strategy in Britain in recent years has concentrated on the company’s supplies to the UK’s armed forces, although in reality this now forms only a minority of BAE’s sales.
"BAE and Qinetiq are very keen to wrap themselves in the Union Jack and declare that they are patriotic companies who always put the needs of the British military above all else” said Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), “That stance has been exposed by this independent report”.
She told Ekklesia that “Both companies were, at the very least, highly negligent, neglecting basic safety considerations and signing off reports without reading them”.
BAE has faced many accusations of undemocratic closeness to the UK government. In 2004, the former Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, insisted that BAE had so much influence over then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that the company’s boss had “the keys to the garden door at Number Ten”. In 2006, Blair provoked outrage by intervening to cut short a Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE’s Saudi arms deals.
Today (29 October), the chief executive of Qinetiq, Graham Love, announced that he was stepping down with immediate effect, although a spokesperson for the company insisted that the decision was unrelated to the Nimrod report.
“The boss of QinetiQ has already resigned,” noted Stearman, “BAE's board should follow him."