Big Debate: Should the ExCeL stop hosting its biennial arms fair?

Demonstrators want the arms fair at the ExCeL stopped

Demonstrators want the arms fair at the ExCeL stopped - Credit: Archant

This week’s Big Debate asks whether Newham’s ExCeL Exhibition Centre should stop hosting an arms fair every two years.

Andrew Smith, left, thinks Alan Lockwood, right, should stop bringing Clarion to the ExCeL

Andrew Smith, left, thinks Alan Lockwood, right, should stop bringing Clarion to the ExCeL - Credit: Archant

Every two years the ExCeL Exhibition Centre welcomes an arms fair to East London. This year’s four-day fair took place from September 15, attracting pro-human rights protesters who say the trade of arms strengthens undemocratic regimes by inviting representatives from countries such as Bahrain and Pakistan. But traders at the fair argue that it not only ensures the UK’s armed forces are well-equipped, but also boosts the local economy. This week’s Big Debate asks: “Should ExCeL Exhibition Centre stop hosting its biennial arms fair?”

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Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade

Only two weeks ago the Saudi authorities upheld a sentence which will see a 20-year-old put to death by crucifixion for peacefully protesting against the dictatorship.

At that exact same time the Saudi military was being glad-handed and welcomed to East London for Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) 2015.

Saudi Arabia was just one of the human rights abusers the government invited to shop for weapons at the ExCeL.

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They were joined by representatives from Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Pakistan among others.

These regimes will only have been strengthened by an event that exists for the sole purpose of selling as many weapons as possible.

The organisers claim DSEI is vital to our economy, but it is simply not the case.

Arms exports account for 0.2 per cent of UK jobs.

It’s a very small sector that receives subsidies worth hundreds of millions of pounds – far from financially benefiting from the arms trade, UK taxpayers are funding it.

Ultimately there is a choice to be made.

You can either support human rights or you can support arms sales – it is impossible to support both.

This doesn’t just apply to government, but also to the arms companies and those who support them, like Clarion.

Arms sales are not just numbers on a spreadsheet – they have deadly consequences.

We always hear about how “rigorous” and “robust” the UK arms export policy is, but nothing could be further from the truth.

UK weapons are currently being used against Yemen and over recent years have been used against innocent people in Gaza, Egypt, Bahrain and beyond.

War and conflict on the other side of the world can sometimes feel distant and remote, but it is fuelled, prolonged and exacerbated by events like DSEI that happen in our city.

Alan Lockwood, Clarion representative

Having served in the Royal Air Force for more than 30 years, I’ve seen first-hand the vital role UK firms play in equipping our Armed Forces.

Whether working alongside NATO partners, protecting us from terrorism, or supporting international humanitarian relief operations, those putting their lives on the line for our country deserve the very best kit available.

Simply put, DSEI is where the Ministry of Defence goes to equip our soldiers, sailors and aircrew. It is also a global showcase for the UK defence industry, which provides more than 300,000 UK jobs in high-tech manufacturing and engineering and generates more than £30bn each year in exports to NATO countries and other nations approved under UK foreign policy.

Those approved countries are the same ones invited by the UK government to DSEI, where exhibitors are monitored by a host of government inspectors, ensuring they follow our country’s strict regulations. This year, inspectors found all of our 1,683 exhibitors to be fully compliant.

Some see DSEI differently – although these views are often based on a misleading picture of the show.

We already provide space at DSEI for several organisations wishing to make their opinions heard peacefully. Unfortunately, this year, a number of other groups came too with the very different intention of deliberately disrupting the event, starting their actions long before it opened.

Although clearly we have no influence over these groups and their approach, we continue to work closely with police and other authorities to ensure disruption to residents is minimised.

The DSEI is one of thousands of shows held at the world-class ExCeL London. This year’s alone is estimated to have boosted the local economy by £30million.

I’m proud of how DSEI serves its country locally, nationally and internationally – our plans for 2017 are already well advanced.