The UK government is continuing to face pressure over its role in arming the Gaddafi regime in Libya. Following nonviolent protests at government offices earlier this week, the police issued a warning to government departments warning them to be aware of the possibility of further demonstrations.
The controversy has focussed attention on UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of the Department for Business which promotes British exports.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) point out that UKTI devotes more staff to its arms wing, the Defence and Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) than to all civil sectors combined. Arms account for less than two percent of UK exports.
UKTI DSO designated Libya a 'priority market', co-ordinated 'high-level political interventions' for arms sales and supported the large British presence at the LibDex arms fair in Tripoli in November 2010.
UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has now announced that arms export licences to Libya have been revoked. But Anne-Marie O'Reilly of CAAT insisted that this was "too little too late", adding "Such licences should never have been granted in the first place".
She argued that the situation drew attention to the problems with UK arms exports as a whole.
“The government likes to claim that it has a responsible and rigorous approach to arms exports," said O'Reilly, "But it made Gaddafi's regime a “priority market” and British weapons have been turned on pro-democracy protesters in the last week."
Earlier this week, a group of anti-arms trade activists succeeded in blocking access to the offices of both UKTI and the UK Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) for over an hour in protest at the UK's arms exports to Libya.
BIS is the department which granted licences which allowed crowd control equipment, tear gas and armoured vehicles to be exported to Gaddafi's repressive regime.
The activists called for a fundamental shift in the UK's approach to arms sales. They said this would involve an end to the government promotion of arms exports and no further sales to repressive regimes and areas in conflict.
A samba band played, while one of the protesters scaled the entrance to BIS to hang a banner above the entrance.
One of the activists explained, “We're here in solidarity with those demanding democracy across the Middle East and north Africa. British arms companies profit from propping up dictators and repressive regimes but this has to end.”
Only days after the details about UK arms sales to Libya were revealed in February, UKTI attended the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX), the largest arms fair in the region, which took place in the UAE. They were accompanied by Gerald Howarth, a UK Defence Minister.