UK sold nerve gas chemicals to Syria after its civil war began, claims paper

By staff writers
September 1, 2013

Months after the country's civil war began, the UK allowed firms to sell chemicals to Syria capable of being used to make nerve gas, reports the Daily Record newspaper this morning (Sunday 1 September).

Export licences were granted last January for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride, components in sarin and other compound agents, by the government's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

They were eventually revoked six months later, when the European Union imposed further sanctions on the Assad regime.

MPs from different parties and researchers are seeking to determine what, if any, of the materials sold most recently got through, and how they might have been used - though the claims have surfaced before, from a House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls, in July of this year, for a period prior to the outbreak of what became a civil war.

Professor Alastair Hay, an expert in environmental toxicology at Leeds University, commented to the Record: “They have a variety of industrial uses... Fluoride is key to making munitions... Whether these elements were used by Syria to make nerve agents is something only subsequent investigation will reveal.”

Westminster SNP MP Angus Robertson commented: “I will be raising this in Parliament 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.

“The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria makes a full explanation around these shady deals even more important.”

Mark Bitel, a Quaker and Scottish representative of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, added: “The UK Government claims to have an ethical policy on arms exports, but when it comes down to practice the reality is very different."

“The Government is hypocritical to talk about chemical weapons if it’s been granting licences to companies to export to regimes such as Syria," he said.

CAAT has criticised the UK Prime Minister for his recent arms sales tour of the Middle East, commercially courting dictators who he also denounces.

The difficulty with policing the trade in chemical agents, analysts acknowledge, is that there is a wide range of potential domestic, industrial and military applications.

The government department concerned rejects claims that material that could have contributed to the creation of chemical weapons have got through to the Assad regime.

But the Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), reporting in July 2013, said that the provision of industrial materials to Syria that could have been used to make chemical weapons was just one example of numerous questionable deals between UK contractors and countries the Foreign Office (FCO) deems to have poor human rights records. ?

The CAEC said supplies of sodium fluoride, which could be used to make chemical weapons, were sent to Syria in the last couple of years.

* Daily Record full report: http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/britain-sold-nerve-gas-c...

* 'Britain's Chemical Sales To Syria Revealed', Sky News 17 July 2013. http://news.sky.com/story/1116687/britains-chemical-sales-to-syria-revealed

* House of Commons Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC):http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/other-committees/committee-on-arms-export-controls/

* CAAT: http://www.caat.org.uk/resources/countries/syria/

* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria

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