Pressure is growing on ministers to suspend the export of British riot gear, teargas, and rubber bullets to the US in light of a violent police crackdown against peaceful civil rights protesters in the country.
More than 160 MPs from every major party in the Commons, including Boris Johnson’s own, have written to Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, calling for an immediate end to exports while an investigation takes place.
Meanwhile nearly half a million people have signed a petition on the issue in just a few days backing the call to end sales.
The 166 MPs from the Labour party, the Conservatives, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Sinn Fein, Alliance, and SDLP say there is a “need to act fast” and that the government “is bound by law to freeze export of all policing and security equipment to the US where it could be misused”.
“To witness not only the murder but what can easily be described as a lynching of a black man at the hands of a police officer is an incident that has shocked the world,” the letter, organised by Labour MP Dawn Butler says.
“The brutality now aimed towards protesters and reporters across the country is unacceptable.”
Noting that the UK has issued active export licences to the US for “anti-crowd gas, riot equipment, rubber bullets and other small arms”, the MPs go on to say:
“There is clear evidence to show that the aforementioned items are being misused. The UK will urgently need to investigate to ascertain whether any of those used were supplied by the UK.
“Therefore, we call on the UK government to immediately suspend all export licenses to the US of all riot-related items. Let us heed the words of Martin Luther King Jr – an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Other names to sign the letter include former coalition cabinet minister Ed Davey, Diane Abbott, Ian Blackford, and Yvette Cooper. Sir David Amess is the first Tory to put his name to the campaign so far.
The demonstrations on American streets erupted first in the city of Minneapolis after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer, but quickly spread across the nation.
The police response has seen security forces ramming crowds with cars, deploying teargas and baton rounds against peaceful demonstrators, and arresting and shooting at domestic and international journalists covering events. Some looting of businesses has taken place during the chaos.
Donald Trump has pledged to deploy the US military to clear the protests and urged local governors to use force to reclaim the streets if necessary.
We call on the UK government to immediately suspend all export licenses to the US of all riot-related items
Letter to international trade secretary from 166 MPs
Boris Johnson left the door open to action on the issue earlier this week, stating that he was “happy to look into any complaints” but adding that “all exports are conducted in accordance with the consolidated guidance and the UK is probably the most scrupulous country in that respect in the world”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer also wrote to Mr Johnson on Thursday calling for a review of such exports. All major opposition parties have backed the call.
Meanwhile an online petition reached 475,000 signatures after just three days on Friday lunch and was likely to pass half a million people by the start of the weekend.
“By continuing the sale of these items, the UK is choosing profit over human rights,” the petition’s organisers say.
Government export licence records show that the US is one of the world’s largest buyers of UK arms, with almost £6bn worth licensed for export since 2010.
The licences have included £18m worth of ammunition, including so-called “rubber bullets”, smoke and pyrotechnic charges, CS gas grenades, and teargas.
The sale of teargas and rubber bullets specifically is conducted via an “open licence” system meaning the value of exports is not made public – in total three separate licences were approved for this equipment.
Britain has also licensed £800m of small arms to the US since 2010, a proportion of which campaigners say is likely to have been for police use. The exports have included assault rifles, sniper rifles and other guns. Licences have also covered around £2m in security goods such as riot shields.
The government’s own licensing criteria says that exports should not be granted if there is a “clear risk that items might be used for internal repression”. The government has the power to urgently review licences where situations change.
The 166 signatories of the letter are: Dawn Butler MP, Diane Abbott MP, Debbie Abrahams MP, Rosena Allin-Khan MP, Tahir Ali MP, Rushanara Ali MP, Sir David Amess MP, Fleur Anderson MP, Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Paula Barker MP, Orfhlaith Begley MP, Apsana Begum MP, Mhairi Black MP, Ian Blackford MP, Olivia Blake MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Mickey Brady MP, Karen Buck MP, Richard Burgon MP, Ian Byrne MP, Liam Byrne MP Ruth Cadbury MP, Amy Callaghan MP, Alistair Carmichael MP, Wendy Chamberlain MP, Sarah Champion MP, Bambos Charalambous MP, Joanna Cherry MP, Feryal Clark MP, Yvette Cooper MP, Rosie Cooper MP, Daisy Cooper MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Ronnie Cowan MP, Angela Crawley MP, Stella Creasy MP, Jon Cruddas MP, John Cryer MP, Janet Daby MP, Sir Ed Davey MP, Geraint Davies MP, Alex Davies-Jones, MP Martyn Day MP, Marsha de Cordova MP, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi MP, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP, Anneliese Dodds MP, Dave Doogan MP, Allan Dorans MP, Stephen Doughty MP, Peter Dowd MP, Tim Farron MP, Dr Stephen Farry MP, Marion Fellows MP, Margaret Ferrier MP, John Finucane MP, Stephen Flynn MP, Vicky Foxcroft MP, Michelle Gildernew MP, Preet Gill MP, Patrick Grady MP, Peter Grant MP, Neil Gray MP, Kate Green MP, Lilian Greenwood MP, Andrew Gwynne MP, Claire Hanna MP, Emma Hardy MP, Helen Hayes MP, Chris Hazzard MP, Drew Hendry MP, Mike Hill MP, Meg Hillier MP, Wera Hobhouse MP, Sharon Hodgson MP, Margaret Hodge MP, Rachel Hopkins MP, Stewart Hosie MP, George Howarth MP, Rupa Huq MP, Imran Hussain MP, Christine Jardine MP, Diana Johnson MP, Kim Johnson MP, Darren Jones MP, Ruth Jones MP, Sarah Jones MP, Barbara Keeley MP, Liz Kendall MP, Afzal Khan MP, Ben Lake MP, Ian Lavery MP, Emma Lewell-Buck MP Clive Lewis MP, David Linden MP, Tony Lloyd MP, Caroline Lucas MP, Holly Lynch MP, Angus MacNeil MP, Khalid Mahmood MP, Shabanna Mahmood MP, Stewart McDonald MP, John McDonnell MP, Alison McGovern MP, Anne McLaughlin MP, Anna McMorrin MP, Navendu Mishra MP, Francie Mollow MP, Carol Monaghan MP, Layla Moran MP, Grahame Morris MP, James Murray MP, Ian Murray MP, John Nicolson MP, Brendan O’Hara MP, Sarah Olney MP, Chi Onwurah MP, Abena Oppong-Asare MP, Kate Osamor MP, Kate Osborne MP, Kirsten Oswald MP Taiwo Owatemi MP Sarah Owens MP, Matthew Pennycook MP, Jess Phillips MP, Yasmin Qureshi MP, Ellie Reeves MP, Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Liz Saville Roberts MP, Naz Shah MP, Tulip Siddiq MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Barry Sheerman MP, Tommy Sheppard MP, Andrew Slaughter MP, Cat Smith MP, Jeff Smith MP, Karin Smyth MP, Chris Stephens MP, Jamie Stone MP, Wes Streeting MP, Zarah Sultana MP, Sam Tarry MP, Alison Thewliss MP Gareth Thomas MP Owen Thompson MP Richard Thomson MP Emily Thornberry MP, Liz Twist MP, Claudia Webbe MP, Rosie Duffield MP, Colum Eastwood MP, Clive Efford MP, Chris Elmore MP, Florence Eshalomi MP,, Bill Esterson MP, Seema Malhotra MP, Kenny MacAskill MP, Rachael Maskell MP, Paul Maskey MP, Siobhain McDonagh MP, Michael Whitley MP, Nadia Whittome MP, Hywel Williams MP, Munira Wilson MP, Mohammad Yasin MP