The coalition government is facing embarrassment after the Liberal Democrats’ party conference voted in favour of ending government support for the arms trade.
The vote is likely to be bad news for both the Liberal Democrat leadership and their Conservative coalition partners. Tory junior defence minister Peter Luff promised in June that the coalition would bring a “very, very, very heavy ministerial commitment” to arms exports.
Delegates at the conference voted narrowly for an “end to government promotion of and support for the arms trade including shutting the export promotion unit, the UK Trade & Investment Defence & Security Organisation and ending export credits for military goods”.
The Defence and Security Organisation (DSO) within UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), is part of the Department for Business, overseen by the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, Vince Cable.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) point out that the taxpayer-funded UKTI DSO helps arms companies to sell weapons to “areas of conflict, repressive regimes and countries with major development needs”.
CAAT’s Sarah Waldron said, “We welcome this vote and look forward to seeing how Liberal Democrat MPs will support this decision”.
She added, “Before his landmark speech, Vince Cable said that he intended to shine ‘a harsh light into the murky world of corporate behaviour’. But what could be more unethical than generous and unwarranted government subsidies for the arms industry, especially at a time when government is cutting vital public services?”
While in opposition, many senior Liberal Democrats, including Vince Cable, opposed government subsidies for arms exports. But since his appointment in May 2010 as Business Secretary, Cable appears to have made no efforts to dismantle or diminish the scope or staffing of UKTI DSO.
The current Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said during his time in opposition that he wanted "to increase Britain's share of the world's defence market” and to “use arms sales as a foreign policy tool”.