Brexit; arms production and sales part II – EU/UK arms trade

Brexit; arms production and sales part II – EU/UK arms trade

After Brexit, the UK Government aims continuation of existing policies on arms exports. Which means maintaining broadly the same policy as the EU on export control and sanctions legislation. “This included preparing for a no-deal scenario by transposing EU export control legislation into UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Act, and creating new UK Sanctions legislation under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018,” summarised the latest UK Annual Report on arms export. But that does not mean UK arms export policy will stay the same.

The EU has an internal consultancy mechanism on arms export denials to stimulate synergy among the members by peer pressure. It is not clear if the UK will continue to be part of this mechanism, like Norway which also is no EU member.

Common sanctions

It is also not yet known if and how the UK will follow the EU sanction policy after Brexit. When it leaves, it carries with it existing EU sanctions, but also then has the possibility to adopt sanctions on its own, or with other international partners. Post-Brexit, the UK will be free to impose unilateral sanctions that are not in line with those of the EU. The EU, like the United Nations, issues arms embargoes or advises to stop licensing arms, as it did two weeks ago on Turkey. It was the weakest possible form of something close to an arms embargo. Would the UK have followed this latest advise as non-EU-member and close ally of Turkey? It may be doubted. Only time will tell whether the Treasury Committee’s reference to “flexible” sanctions means a more onerous and extensive UK regime.

UK exports

After Brexit arms sales may be used to strengthen new-to-develop UK relations abroad. The British NGO Saferworld is concerned that over time, the UK could drift away from the established EU consensus around responsibility and restraint in arms and dual-use exports. However the UK following the EU Common Policy on arms export is not preventing this either, because this EU-regime is multi-interpretable and has not blocked controversial arms exports in the past.

Industry spread its wings

Arms export policies however are already adapting towards the post-EU situation. In the 2017 post-Brexit UK governments Green Paper an increase of the arms exports was part of the industrial strategy. UK arms exports to repressive regimes already increase since the Brexit vote. This happened with the UK inside the EU framework of a Common Position on arms exports. After Brexit, the UK may “spread its wings across the world” with defence and arms exports said a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Kent, because then it is free to support this branch of industry. UK government support for a military sale by British Aerospace to Turkey in 2017, despite the repressive Erdogan regime, was seen bowing to the interest of the defence industry needed in the Brexit context. The UK Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, mentioned MBDA as an example for UK business post-Brexit, a company notorious for its sale of missiles to Gadaffi. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade reacted: “If Fallon believes MBDA is a role-model then it says very worrying things about how he sees the UK’s post-Brexit future.”

Connection to EU

Journalist Lyndia Noon argued why Brexit is good for those in the business of war: “The UK Government has identified arms sales as a priority for the brave new world post-Brexit, and a global Britain, or arguably a more desperate Britain, looks set to invest in this sector. Europe accounts for few military contracts so there is little downside to the changing market, according to the UK’s trade group for arms companies, euphemistically called the Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space association (ADS).”

For the European Union Brexit brings more political space for developing a European defence policy without London obstruction it. How strongly the UK will be interwove in the EU structures is not clear yet, but that it has greater freedom to market its arms is undebatable. This includes export of weapons developed after Brexit with EU-partners. This is not a winner for international peace.

Martin Broek 11/04/2019