Tory minister Gerald Howarth: friend of the arms trade

The defence minister’s shameful links to the arms industry.

While David Cameron delivered his much-praised speech to the Kuwaiti National Assembly, Gerald Howarth, one of the coalition's defence ministers, attended an arms fair in Abu Dhabi at which 100 British companies sold "crowd control" weapons including tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades.

But Howarth's shameful record as a pimp for the arms trade made his presence at the fair no surprise. In 2004, while a shadow defence minister, he rewarded one weapons lobbyist with a House of Commons pass. Michael Wood, managing director of Whitehall Advisers, whose clients include BAE Systems, was listed as a member of his staff on the official register.

Further examination of the register of members' interests reveals the hospitality that Howarth has enjoyed courtesy of the arms trade. Here are some notable entries:

26-27 January 2009, to Warton in Lancashire, to visit BAe Systems for a tour of facilities and briefing meetings as Shadow Minister for Defence Equipment and Support. My return flights from London to Warton and one night's accommodation were provided by BAe Systems.

4-7 December 2006, to Washington DC, to address a conference on defence. Cost of the air fare and hotel accommodation met by the Hudson Institute. The conference was part sponsored by Fimeccanica. The visit included a visit to Sikorsky Aircraft, with my air transport from Washington Stratford, Connecticut paid by Sikorsky.

25 February-1 March 2007, to Washington DC, sponsored by the UK Defence Forum to promote defence technology transfer. Air fare and accommodation paid for by the UK Defence Forum, themselves sponsored by BAe Systems, Rolls Royce, QinetiQ and Smiths Detection.

Little wonder that the Conservative MP, a former member of the ultra-right Monday Club, once declared: "People who decry the defence industry should hang their heads in shame because it is a noble industry."

Cameron may have declared that "denying people their basic rights does not preserve stability", but his decision to travel to the region with men like Howarth suggests that it remains business as usual for the arms trade. The coalition should not have waited until Bahrain and Libya opened fire on their own people to revoke its arms exports licences.

It is in the nature of such regimes to crush dissent. For this reason, it is neither practical nor ethical to sell weapons to them in the first place.

If Cameron is truly on the side on the protesters, he should impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo and remove the repugnant Howarth from his government.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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“Brexit is based on racism”: Who is protesting outside the Supreme Court and what are they fighting for?

Movement for Justice is challenging the racist potential of Brexit, as the government appeals the High Court's Article 50 decision.

Protestors from the campaign group Movement for Justice are demonstrating outside the Supreme Court for the second day running. They are against the government triggering Article 50 without asking MPs, and are protesting against the Brexit vote in general. They plan to remain outside the Supreme Court for the duration of the case, as the government appeals the recent High Court ruling in favour of Parliament.

Their banners call to "STOP the scapgoating of immigrants", to "Build the movement against austerity & FOR equality", and to "Stop Brexit Fight Racism".

The group led Saturday’s march at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre, where a crowd of over 2,000 people stood against the government’s immigration policy, and the management of the centre, which has long been under fire for claims of abuse against detainees.  

Movement for Justice, and its 50 campaigners, were in the company yesterday of people from all walks of pro and anti-Brexit life, including the hangers-on from former Ukip leader Nigel Farage’s postponed march on the Supreme Court.

Antonia Bright, one of the campaign’s lead figures, says: “It is in the interests of our fight for freedom of movement that the Supreme Court blocks May’s attempt to rush through an anti-immigrant deal.”

This sentiment is echoed by campaigners on both sides of the referendum, many of whom believe that Parliament should be involved.

Alongside refuting the royal prerogative, the group criticises the Brexit vote in general. Bright says:

“The bottom line is that Brexit represents an anti-immigrant movement. It is based on racism, so regardless of how people intended their vote, it will still be a decision that is an attack on immigration.”

A crucial concern for the group is that the terms of the agreement will set a precedent for anti-immigrant policies that will heighten aggression against ethnic communities.

This concern isn’t entirely unfounded. The National Police Chief’s Council recorded a 58 per cent spike in hate crimes in the week following the referendum. Over the course of the month, this averaged as a 41 per cent increase, compared with the same time the following year.

The subtext of Bright's statement is not only a dissatisfaction with the result of the EU referendum, but the process of the vote itself. It voices a concern heard many times since the vote that a referendum is far too simple a process for a desicion of such momentous consequences. She also draws on the gaping hole between people's voting intentions and the policy that is implemented.

This is particularly troubling when the competitive nature of multilateral bargaining allows the government to keep its cards close to its chest on critical issues such as freedom of movement and trade agreements. Bright insists that this, “is not a democratic process at all”.

“We want to positively say that there does need to be scrutiny and transparency, and an opening up of this question, not just a rushing through on the royal prerogative,” she adds. “There needs to be transparency in everything that is being negotiated and discussed in the public realm.”

For campaigners, the use of royal prerogative is a sinister symbol of the government deciding whatever it likes, without consulting Parliament or voters, during the future Brexit negotiations. A ruling in the Supreme Court in favour of a parliamentary vote would present a small but important reassurance against these fears.