Show Hide image

How Brexit could fuel the international arms trade

The UK is already one of the biggest arms exporters in the world. And the government is in no mood to be picky about who buys their guns. 

“Almost all the journalists I know have been put out of business. They’re either being arrested or having their newspapers shut down.” Ali knew the situation better than most. As the UK correspondent for a Turkish publication he had seen colleagues detained and former workplaces shut down in President Erdogan’s ongoing war against journalism.

Only two months later, Theresa May touched down in Ankara to meet the man behind the crackdown. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there to call for reform, or to support the rights of journalists like Ali. She was there to sell weapons.

By the time she left she had secured £100m worth of fighter jet sales, in a deal that BAE Systems Chief Executive Ian King welcomed as “an exciting next step in relations between both Turkey and the UK.”

This deal hasn’t come in isolation, with a further £50m of arms sales having been licensed to Turkey since last summer’s failed coup. Despite the instability and oppression, it remains on the government’s list of "priority markets" for arms exports.

In that time, 125,000 state workers have been purged from their jobs, with a further 40,000 people arrested. Reports suggest torture has become widespread, with Amnesty citing evidence of detainees being subjected to "beatings and torture, including rape.”

The government line is clear, with Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan saying; “The scale of people being arrested is massive and needs to be justified … but we have made it very clear that we need to deepen our bilateral relationship. Turkey is a large and significant economy which cannot be ignored."

The UK’s commitment to human rights has always been selective and tenuous. However, with the uncertainty of Brexit negotiations, there is every reason to believe the government will do even more to push arms sales and cosy-up to human rights abusers.

Erdogan’s Turkey is far from the only repressive regime to have been visited by May in the hunt for for post-Brexit allies. Last December she visited Bahrain for the Gulf Cooperation Council summit, which meant three days of photo-ops and schmoozing with dictatorships. Her keynote speech didn’t mention human rights once. Instead she used Brexit to call for even closer ties to the region:

“I am determined that we should seize the opportunity to get out into the world and to shape an even bigger global role for my country: yes, to build new alliances but more importantly, to go even further in working with old friends, like our allies here in the Gulf.”

It’s not just Theresa May. In the last six months the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has visited Oman, Bahrain, UAE, where he made his first official speech in post, and Kuwait. There is no question that arms are central to their plans. The Middle East is a small region, but it accounts for almost two thirds of UK arms exports.

This percentage is only likely to increase in the years ahead, with more arms companies shifting their focus from Europe to "emerging markets". Last August the ADS, a trade body for arms companies, told Bloomberg: “Europe will continue to be important, but there are perhaps other areas where there is now a bigger incentive to develop longer-term relationships... Brexit provides the circumstances and the catalyst for faster and more efforts.”

The importance Whitehall puts on the industry is obvious. As Bob Keen, head of government relations at BAE, told the House of Commons Defence Committee “it simply is not possible to do a major defence deal without fundamental government support.”

In the government’s post-Brexit green paper, increasing arms exports was included as a key point in its industrial strategy. It also announced the MoD will work with arms companies to develop a programme to “enhance support for exports.” Similarly, David Jones MP, a minister for Exiting the EU told arms company reps he is “determined” exports “will continue to thrive after our departure from the EU”

The government is pouring support and resources into arms sales, but any impact on the economy will be negligible. Arms sales only account for 1.4 per cent of exports, even this is an overestimate of their importance as around 40 per cent of the value of the exports is imported in the first place. Industry jobs are in long term decline. According to ADS, arms exports account for 55,000 jobs, roughly 0.2 per cent of the workforce.

There is no shortage of industries that would be grateful for the support and investment being offered to arms companies. The renewable energy sector in particular stands out as one that employs many of the same skills and is in need of personnel.

Since I spoke to Ali, the outlet he worked for has been closed by Erdogan. May’s visit did nothing to help him or the thousands of victims of the ongoing repression.

When the UK arms human rights abusers it sends a statement of support to the regimes. But it sends a different message to those like Ali, and to those being detained and tortured for their beliefs. It tells them that their rights are negotiable and their liberties are less important than arms company profits.

According to the Prime Minister, Brexit will see the rise of a "global Britain". If so, will it be one that stands up for those living under oppression, or one that continues to arm, support and appease those oppressing them?

Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.

Show Hide image

The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.