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23 February 2011

Tory minister Gerald Howarth: friend of the arms trade

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

By George Eaton

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.

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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.