JNN 23 Feb 2011 : British Prime Minister David Cameron took the heads of eight arms producing companies to Gulf region , including Egypt & Kuwait with him to ‘to build democracy,’ it has been revealed.
Cameron became the first world leader to visit Egypt after the country’s long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled in a popular uprising, which had its roots in Islamic awakening.
However, the British premier was branded a disgrace after it emerged that he had taken eight weapons manufacturers with him to the Middle Eastern Gulf Regional tour.
Bosses from major arms and aerospace companies such as BAe Systems, Qinetiq and Thales joined the Prime Minister on the plane which last night arrived in Kuwait at the second leg of Cameron’s regional tour.
Other defence contractors present included bosses from the Cobham Group, Ultra Electronics, Rolls Royce, Babcock International Group and Atkins.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to offer Britain’s help in creating the “building blocks of democracy” in the country and the wider Arab region.
But critics said Cameron was promoting a mission to sell weaponry to Arab dictators shortly after Colonel Gaddafi may have used British weapons to kill hundreds of his fellow countrymen in Libya.
Criticism of Britain’s trade relations with Arab dictators has focused on former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s ‘Deal in the Desert’ with Colonel Gaddafi in 2004.
But the story begins here. The coalition government has continued to sell arms to Libya, which included crowd control ammunition, sniper rifles and tear gas.
Recently, the government hastily revoked eight weapons export licenses to Libya amid fears British weapons were used in the slaughter of hundreds of protesters who have poured into the streets to demand their basic rights to freedom of expression and democracy.
Cameron has condemned the violence in Libya as “completely appalling and unacceptable.”
“The regime is using the most vicious forms of repression,” said the Prime Minister.
But, Sarah Waldron, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said those words rang hollow because the government is still promoting arms sales to Arab autocrats.
“It’s an absolute disgrace that the Prime Minister has taken these arms dealers with him,” she said.
“People across the Middle East are dying for democracy at the same time as the government seems intent on flogging their wares to those very regimes that are suppressing these values,” added Waldron.
Cameron, however, defiantly defended the inclusion of defence companies on his trip, saying it was right that Britain should be able to sell arms to countries in the Middle East.
But yesterday an angry Mr Cameron said he could not understand why anyone would oppose his attempts to boost British defence sales in such a volatile region.
In a speech to the Kuwaiti parliament, he admitted that past British governments had miscalculated in their policy of propping up brutal dictators in the region.
But his warm words on peace and democracy have been overshadowed by the disclosure that his delegation contains bosses from such arms firms as BAe Systems, Thales UK, Atkins and Qinetiq.
Marking the 20th anniversary of Kuwait’s liberation from Saddam Hussein’s forces, Mr Cameron said: ‘A properly regulated trade in defence is nothing we should be ashamed of
‘The fact that there are British defence companies on this visit – BAe, Thales and others – is perfectly right in this regard.’
The Foreign Office has already revoked a series of export licences for Libya and Bahrain in the wake of the crackdowns on protesters in those countries. But Mr Cameron said it was right to do business with allies such as Kuwait.
‘The idea that Kuwait should not be able to have its own armed forces able to defend its own country, I find an extraordinary argument to make when we helped liberate the country,’ he said.
‘We have probably the toughest set of export rules probably anywhere in the world. It is obviously difficult to get it right on every occasion.’
An angry Mr Cameron told a journalist: ‘I simply don’t understand how you can’t understand that democracies have a right to defend themselves.
‘Are we honestly saying that for all time, countries like Kuwait have to manufacture and maintain every single part of their own defences?
‘There are very few people who would even consider that argument for any length of time and give it any consideration at all.’
But Yasmin Khan, senior campaigns officer at the charity War On Want, said: ‘As people in the Middle East risk their lives opposing authoritarian regimes, it is deplorable that David Cameron is seeking to exploit the crisis by promoting sales of weapons and torture equipment to the region.
‘Cameron should cancel this tour immediately and ban all UK companies from weapons deals with regimes that deny human rights to their people.’
In his speech to the Kuwaiti parliament, Mr Cameron said that successive British governments have been guilty of ‘racism’ by propping up repressive regimes because of a belief that Arabs could not ‘do democracy’.
The Prime Minister said some of his predecessors’ policies had also helped foment instability in the Middle East by their failure to promote democracy.
The law firm that employs Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s wife has come under fire for lobbying on behalf of the Libyan regime.
DLA Piper reportedly advised the Libyans on how to get compensation from the EU for agreeing to stop the migration of Africans from Libya to Europe, although Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Mr Clegg’s wife and a senior partner in the firm, is understood to have had nothing to do with the Libyan work.