A US arms company linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen had an employee working at the Department of International Trade while a legal case over British arms sales to Saudi Arabia was ongoing.
Raytheon, based in Glenrothes, Fife, had an employee seconded to the DIT during the last 14 months.
Documents obtained by The Ferret also show that six other arms firms had employees working at the Department of International Trade (DIT) over the last 14 months, prompting calls for an investigation.
We can also reveal that at least 50 arms company employees had passes for Ministry of Defence premises this year, allowing them privileged access to Whitehall.
Critics say the level of access arms firms have to the UK Government is “concerning” and have also raised concerns over the potential impact on human rights.
But the UK Government says that people seconded to the DIT offer valuable skills and experience.
The DIT posts usually last a year, with secondees paid by their companies during their time in Whitehall.
Arms firms with staff at the DIT included Raytheon, which makes smart bombs in Fife, Lockheed Martin, BAE, Rolls Royce and Leonardo, an Italian firm that employs nearly 2,000 people in Edinburgh.
Raytheon employs around 600 people in Fife and contributes hugely to the local economy but the firm has been embroiled in controversy over laser guided systems it makes for Paveway IV missiles.
The bombs have been linked to war crimes allegations levelled against Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of nations fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Claims of indiscriminate bombings by the Saudis and thousands of civilian deaths led to Campaign Against Arms Trade launching legal action in March 2016 in an attempt to have UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia suspended.
CAAT argued that the decision to grant export licences to Saudi Arabia went against Britain’s arms export policy but lost its case in July. It has appealed the decision.
The case was brought against the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, who heads the DIT.
“I am shocked to learn that UK government departments have so many private business employees who have been “embedded” with open access to influence conversations and decisions of the government." Douglas Chapman, SNP MP.
A freedom of information reply from the DIT revealed that Raytheon had an employee seconded to it during the last 14 months.
Douglas Chapman MP, the SNP Procurement Spokesperson said “I am shocked to learn that UK government departments have so many private business employees who have been “embedded” with open access to influence conversations and decisions of the government.
“This is very concerning especially where the outcome of legal cases or the awarding of multi billion pound contracts could be skewed in favour of one company or another.
After the week Westminster has endured, this looks like another area where Westminster just doesn’t understand what relationships are all about and where the boundaries lie.”
Ross Greer MSP, External Affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “These revelations show that the UK Government is utterly compromised by its relationship with arms companies.
“While the likes of Raytheon sell missiles systems to Saudi Arabia, it is absolutely unacceptable for them to have staff seconded within Whitehall, particularly while the government’s decision to allow such sales was subject to legal challenge.
“This normalisation of the arms industry is pervasive across our society, from the presence of such companies at the heart of government to the arms-dealer lesson plans I’ve had to root out of Scottish schools and the significant public subsidies and grants given to companies involved in the industry.
“While Saudi bombing, using equipment manufactured in Scotland, has caused a cholera outbreak, killed thousands and left millions at risk of starvation in Yemen, we must reject this attempt by the arms industry to influence everything from classrooms to the cabinet table.
“That must clearly start with an independent investigation of these dodgy secondments.”
Alasdair Cameron, of Friends of The Earth said: ‘The first issue is if its right for companies like Shell and Raytheon to have staff embedded in the Department for International Trade – what are they doing there and who do they really answer to?’
‘The second issue is all the sectors of society that are not represented. Where are the clean technology companies and the creative industries which will power the UK economy in the 21st century, where are the civil society groups?
“The fact that half of all the companies with secondments to Liam Fox’s Department are involved with the arms industry speaks volumes about where he sees us going after Brexit.’
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “For decades now there has been a politically intimate and compromising relationship between government and the arms trade.
“That is why arms company employees, including those that work for companies that have profited from the destruction of Yemen, are being seconded to the same departments that are meant to regulate their work.
“All of this has contributed to a foreign policy that focuses on disastrous military interventions and arms sales to human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships.”
Andy Watson, Head of Industry Integrity Transparency International Defence and Security said: “Given DIT’s responsibilities for issuing arms export licences and supporting companies through mechanisms such as Export Finance, it is concerning to see this level of access by industry representatives at the heart of government decision making.
“If these secondments are to continue, DIT must be clear as to what roles these individuals play; and ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate influence.”
In reply, a spokesman for the DIT said that the government supports “responsible defence and security industries” which contributed £35 billion to the UK’s economy last year.
"All secondees to the department provide valuable business insight and experience from a wide range of high value sectors." Department of Trade and Industry
He added: “All secondees to the department provide valuable business insight and experience from a wide range of high value sectors.
“The UK government takes its export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust export control regimes in the world.
“We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National arms export licensing Criteria, and have suspended or revoked licences when the level of risk changes.”
Concerns were also raised about the Whitehall passes issued to arms firms by the MoD.
Leonardo has been given 13 passes while BAE Systems has 19.
The MoD declined to comment but its freedom of information reply said: “Units within MoD buildings identify contractors who need to have access on a regular basis as this is in the business interests of MoD and the unit sponsors the individual for a pass.
“All contractors undergo the appropriate vetting before a pass is issued.”
But Will Dinan, of Spinwatch, expressed concern and said: “There has long been a revolving door between Whitehall and the defence industry. This is perhaps not surprising given government contracts are the lifeblood for arms manufacturers.
“However, it is not clear how the MoD and other government departments mitigate the risks of conflict of interest and ensure sensitive government information, or early information on policy, is not inappropriately shared with the arms industry.”
Raytheon did not respond to our request for a comment.
Cover image: Saudi Air Force Al Shahrani | Public Domain | Source: http://bit.ly/2zqQ5uU