GRANT SHAPPS has been urged to end the UK government’s military support for regimes such as Saudi Arabia, and to cancel the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms fair due to be held in London the week after next.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) urged the new Defence Secretary to make a clean break with his predecessor Ben Wallace’s enthusiastic support for arms companies, high military spending and the provision of military training to tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia.

But the PPU acknowledged that such a policy change is unlikely and said that the DSEI arms fair will face protests and nonviolent direct action from a wide range of people and organisations if it goes ahead in London’s Excel Centre from 12th to 15th September. Grant Shapps is thus likely to face protests if, as expected, he attends DSEI in his new role as Defence Secretary. When Shapps was Business Secretary he negotiated deals with the Saudi regime.

Faced with challenging questions at the last DSEI arms fair, in 2021, Ben Wallace insisted that “The Saudis have been our friends for many, many, many decades”.

The PPU points out that during Ben Wallace’s time in office, the UK’s military expenditure has become the fourth highest in the world, while Wallace has failed to take any meaningful action after a string of revelations about sexual abuse within the armed forces. Freedom of Information requests revealed that one in 10 young women aged 16 or 17 in the British Army reported being raped or sexually assaulted in 2021.

The biennial London arms fair involves representatives of the world’s governments and armed forces meeting arms companies at the Excel Centre in London Docklands. It is due to take place from Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 September 2023.

The PPU is a member of the Stop the Arms Fair coalition, which brings together local residents, peace groups and victims of the arms trade to challenge DSEI. Protests are planned from 4 to 15 September.

Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), said: “The praise for the departing Ben Wallace is bizarre. He is an apologist for oppressive regimes and arms dealers. Wallace’s time in office has seen a flood of revelations about the abuse of young recruits to the British armed forces, but Wallace has barely spoken about it, let alone taken action.

“While ministers rightly condemn Russian atrocities in Ukraine, all these comments are undermined and discredited by their provision of arms and military training to the forces of Saudi Arabia, who are killing civilians in Yemen in much the same way that Putin’s forces are killing civilians in Russia.

“Grant Shapps has an opportunity to focus on real defence, by ditching his predecessor’s militaristic policies, concentrating on the underlying causes of war and tackling the real threats to our security, including poverty, pandemics and climate chaos. Sadly, there is no sign that Shapps will move on from the failed policies on militarism. Thankfully there are plenty of people willing to speak out and take action against militarism and the arms industry, whether in the UK, Russia or anywhere else.”

As the British section of War Resisters’ International, the Peace Pledge Union works with pacifists and other anti-war campaigners around the world. Throughout the Ukraine crisis, the PPU has remained in regular contact with the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement, the Russian Movement for Conscientious Objectors and other Russian anti-war activists.

* More information on Stop The Arms Fair here.

* Source: Peace Pledge Union