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UK: Rishi Sunak should correct record on arms sales to Israel

During PMQs in the House of Commons today, Rishi Sunak said that “the UK Government doesn’t, itself, directly provide or ship arms to Israel”, a factually incorrect statement which the Government’s own figures contradict, said Amnesty International this evening.

Though official data on licences issued for the export of UK arms lacks detail, in a recent submission to the High Court in an ongoing legal challenge to the UK’s transfer of weapons and other military equipment to Israel, the Government told the court that it had identified 56 licences that risked being used by the Israeli military in Gaza, including 28 current export licences and a further 28 pending licence applications which were being processed by Government departments. 

These 56 licences, however, are themselves only a fraction of the much larger number - running into hundreds - of licences concerning UK arms exports to Israel.

According to the Government submission, the 56 licences were for a wide range of equipment, including for components for combat aircraft, utility helicopters, armoured personnel carriers, naval vessels, radars and targeting equipment. Pending licence applications were for equipment which includes components for military aircraft, weapon sights and targeting equipment, small arms ammunition, and materials for the production of military aero-engines.

Meanwhile, stressed Amnesty, the question of whether UK arms were being sent to Israeli via a third country such as the USA or directly to Israel is irrelevant under the terms of the Government’s own rules. The UK’s arms export control system requires the Government to process arms export licences based on the final end-user of the equipment being exported. So all equipment sent to third countries for onward export to Israel is subject to the usual export licensing controls. For example, UK-made components sent to the USA for use in US-manufactured F-35 or F-16 combat aircraft - used by the Israeli military, which sources them from the USA - are assessed as part of the UK’s standard export controls system.

Amnesty believes that today the Prime Minister may have misled the House of Commons with his remark, and is requesting that he issue a correction.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said:

“On something as gravely important as this it’s shocking that Rishi Sunak appears to have misled the House of Commons and he should correct the record as soon as possible.

“The UK has been selling weapons and other military equipment to Israel for years, both as direct sales and in the form of third-party sales via the USA, notably components for US-made F-35 jets which Israeli forces are currently using in Gaza with such devastating consequences for Palestinian civilians.

“The PM’s attempt to deflect attention from UK arms sales to Israel completely misses the point in any case - the UK shouldn’t be shipping any arms intended for use by the Israeli military given the clear and obvious risk that they could be used in the commission of further serious violations of international law in Gaza and elsewhere.

“As we’ve been saying for some time, proper reform of the failing system for regulating this country’s arms sales is now long overdue.

“The Prime Minister should correct the record on the UK’s weapons sales to Israel and order an immediate halt to any further sales - whether direct or indirect.

“With every transfer of UK arms for the Israeli military, the UK is risking greater and greater complicity in Israel’s war crimes and possible genocide in Gaza.” 


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