Arms firms due to attend a trade event dubbed a “festival of violence” gave MP’s more than £60,000 in donations, we can reveal, prompting concerns over the privileged access multinationals have at Westminster.
Ahead of DSEI 2019 in London we can also report that at least 27 members of the House of Lords received free dinners and breakfasts, courtesy of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Armed Forces which receives funding from arms firms.
At least 13 Lords have shareholdings in DSEI companies while 10 have directorships or employment, and senior officials at the Ministry of Defence enjoyed at least 163 hospitality meetings with arms companies in the last quarter of 2018 – a significant rise from 45 during the same period in 2017.
Officials were treated to dinner, lunches, drinks, Christmas concerts, rugby games and overnight stays, from arms firms such as Leonardo, Raytheon, Thales and MBDA. The latter makes Brimstone and Storm Shadow missiles used in Yemen’s war.
MPs and Lords are allowed to accept hospitality from private companies but critics of the arms trade have expressed concern over the scale of the hospitality, amid fears over the creeping influence of multinationals since the Tories came to power.
DSEI is a bi-annual event held at ExCeL in London that brings together more than 1500 exhibitors and arms dealers with military delegations invited by the UK government.
It will run from 10th to 13th of September and describes itself as a “world leading event”. The invitation-only event facilitates secret arms sales of everything from rifles and tanks, to fighter jets and battleships.
DSEI is organised by Clarion Events and supported by the Ministry of Defence and Department of International Trade. But the UK Government has been condemned for inviting states named recently for killing children, among other nations accused of human rights abuses.
Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Israel have all been invited to DSEI despite the UN naming them for attacks against children last year. The Saudis have been invited to DSEI in the face of war crimes allegations in Yemen and despite a ruling that UK arms sales to them were unlawful.
Over 18 months to the 1st March 2018, a total of 13 DSEI firms – including Raytheon, BAE Systems and Leonardo, which all have factories in Scotland – collectively gave £128,500 to the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces at Westminster, which treats MPs to dinner and breakfasts.
Of those MPs accepting hospitality from DSEI firms, 19 politicians were Tories, 5 were Labour and one was Lib-Dem.
Politicians who enjoyed free meals courtesy of the APPG for Armed Forces included Tory MP Bob Stewart who enjoyed 12 dinners and two breakfasts totalling £508.
Regarding foreign trips, Tory MP Alan Mak twice visited both Munich, Germany, and San Francisco in the USA, courtesy of donations from US arms multinational Lockheed Martin UK, who part-funded his four visits, costing £8551.
Tory MP Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, declared £4375 for trips to the US, Austria and Germany. The trips were part-funded by US firm Boeing Defence which makes Apache combat helicopters, B-52 Bombers and systems for long range missiles, among other weaponry.
At least 27 members of the House of Lords accepted free dinners from the APPG including Lord McAvoy, deputy speaker in the Lords and shadow spokesperson for Labour on both Scotland and Northern Ireland issues.
Lords with shares in DSEI companies include Baron Glendonbrook of the Tories, who lists shareholdings in BAE and Raytheon, among others. Other members of the House of Lords – at least 10 – hold directorships with DSEI firms.
They include Tory peer Lord Freeman who is on the advisory board to Thales (UK), a subsidiary of the French arms firm which makes precision-guided bombs and sells to regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and UAE.
Another peer – Lord Strathclyde – is chairman of Raytheon UK, whose smart bombs made in Fife have been linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen.
Meanwhile, civil servants at the MoD enjoyed dozens of meetings with arms firms during the four months from September to December 2018.
It is unclear how many more meetings arms firms had with civil servants in 2018 because the MoD said that senior officials’ expenses, travel and hospitality data for the rest of the year were not published due to “changes in the reporting requirements”.
Critics of the secret lobbying include Edinburgh Campaign Against the Arms Trade who said: “The UK government’s approach to the arms industry is disgraceful. Evidence from the UN and human rights organisations that UK weaponry is being used on civilians in some of the world’s most devastating conflicts is being ignored.
“At the very same time, multinational arms companies are given free-reign to buy influence with MPs in the corridors of power at Westminster with lavish dinners and events.”
“If this Conservative government was serious about having ‘one of the strictest arms export guidelines in the world’, they would surely start by halting arms sales to companies on their own human rights watch list. Instead, they are actively chasing and promoting arms deals with brutal regimes.”
“At DSEI lethal weaponry will be sold like toys in a supermarket, while the rich and powerful network at VIP drinks receptions. Scotland must stand against this blood trade in solidarity with the people whose lives are torn apart by these weapons across the world.”
Ian Pocock, a campaigner with Stop the Arms Fair, said: “This exposes the sickeningly cozy relationship between arms companies and politicians. These donations are being made to buy friends and influence. It can only encourage politicians to ignore the devastation these companies cause globally.
“Many of these companies have profited from the war in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have been killed by the Saudi-led coalition’s bombardment of the country. That is why we must stop arms fairs like DSEI and end the arms sales that they fuel.”
Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said: “It’s no surprise that Westminster politicians are living the high life courtesy of the arms trade. It’s been the case for some time that the price of some MPs and Lords is nothing more than a free breakfast, even if it’s paid for from the profits of war crimes and atrocities committed across the world.
“The All Party Parliamentary Group for Armed Forces would be better cutting itself off from the parasites of the arms industry and focussing instead on how we can end the cycles of perpetual war and conflict which benefit these dealers of death.
“The massive increase in lobbying of civil servants is an urgent concern. The world’s most brutal regimes are assisted in acquiring arms by the UK Government. This is a clear attempt by them to maximise sales through influencing the civil service and it should stop immediately.”
Mick Napier of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “This investigation confirms what many of us suspected; there is an overly cosy relationship between some members of parliament and arms companies who need and seek political protection to continue arming Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“This is going on even while these and other regimes commit what Amnesty, the UNHRC (UN) and Human Rights Watch have shown to be war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine and Yemen.”
A UK Government spokesperson said: “It is entirely normal for ministers, senior officials and their teams to meet with suppliers and contractors to the government.”
ADS Group – which represents the arms industry – declined to comment.
The Ferret revealed in January that Raytheon had at least 57 private meetings with the UK Government. Raytheon wined and dined MPs and treated a minister at the MoD to a slap up Burns Supper with haggis, neeps and whisky. The multinational also met privately with Philip Hammond MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was foreign secretary, after claims of war crimes in Yemen emerged.