A Quaker has interrupted a speech by Business Secretary Vince Cable to deliver his own impromptu speech against the government’s support for the arms industry. Sam Walton took the stage at an arms dealers’ conference and spoke for about a minute before being dragged away.
The incident occurred today (26 April) in at the annual symposium of the Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), the arms trade wing of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), a unit of Cable’s department.
The audience consisted of arms company directors, ministers, civil servants, diplomats and members of the British and Thai armed forces.
After shouting “Stop!” and running onto the stage, Walton said, “I am here today to give voice to the people… whose lives you are ruining”. He urged wealthy arms dealers to seek alternative employment at the local job centre, before he was physically dragged from the room.
Walton’s actions were welcomed by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
UKTI has been strongly criticised for promoting weapons sales to repressive regimes and abusers of human rights, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Indonesia and Gaddafi’s Libya. UKTI devotes more staff to its arms trade wing than to all civil sectors combined, although arms make up less than two per cent of UK exports.
UKTI opened the DSO wing after the clsoure of DESO, a unit within the Ministry of Defence that promoted arms sales and lobbied for the arms industry. DESO was closed following a long-running campaign by CAAT, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Speak network and other groups.
Earlier, Richard Paniguian, the head of UKTI DSO, reassured the arms industry they had support at the highest levels of government.
Paniguian cited David Cameron's recent trip to Asia accompanied by arms companies as an example of how the Prime Minister is “unequivocal in lending the full weight of his support to our mission.”
“The conference was totally surreal,” explained Sam Walton after being forced out of the conference. “Lots of talk about exports and trade but none of the consequences of flogging arms all over the world”.
He added, “Our government has no business using taxpayers' money to prop up arms companies at a time when education and health services are being cut.”
It is not the first time that Walton has been forcibly removed while staging a nonviolent protest. He was one of five Christians to be dragged by police from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral on 28 February, as he knelt in prayer during the eviction of Occupy London Stock Exchange.
Footage of the event can be found at http://youtu.be/0KFenHHzS_8 .