Emily Thornberry – 2020 Statement on UK Exports of Riot Control Equipment

Below is the text of the letter written to Liz Truss by Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, on 2 June 2020.

I am writing to ask you as a matter of urgency to address a number of serious questions about the export of riot control equipment to the United States, following a week when people across America have taken to the streets to demand justice for the murder of George Floyd and all the other Black Americans whose lives have been lost as a result of police brutality.

These protesters are calling for the basic human rights of Black people to be respected, for them to go about their daily lives without the threat of police violence, and for all of us to take action to dismantle the structural and institutional practices which entrench racism in our societies.

In cities across America, we have seen law enforcement authorities using excessive force in response to these protests, including against children and members of the media. Donald Trump’s statement yesterday threatened the deployment of the US military to escalate this response, and took place as peaceful protesters were tear-gassed and beaten nearby by federal police.

As you know, it has been the policy of successive governments over the past two decades to refuse licences for the export of arms and equipment that might be used for internal repression in the countries to whom they are being sold. It is therefore an obvious matter of concern if any exports from the UK have been used in the response to the ongoing protests in the United States.

According to your department’s latest Strategic Export Controls: Country Pivot Report, the UK has recently issued licences for the export of a variety of riot control projectiles and equipment to the United States, including anti-riot/ballistic shields, anti-riot guns, components for anti-riot guns, portable riot control electric shock devices, and tear gas/riot control agents.

If there is a risk that any of these riot control projectiles and equipment are being used in the United States against peaceful, unarmed civilians, then the government must act immediately to stop their export. I would be grateful if you could therefore as a matter of urgency:

a. Publish a comprehensive list of all current export licences to the USA of riot control projectiles and equipment, along with all available end-user data to clarify who has purchased these items and for what declared purpose within the last five years; and

b. Suspend all existing licences and halt the issue of any new licences for the export of riot control projectiles and equipment to the United States until you have determined whether any of these items are being used in response to the ongoing protests, or risk being used in the coming days if the US military is deployed as part of that response.

I’m sure you will agree that, at a time when Donald Trump is gearing up to use the US military to crush the legitimate protests taking place across America over the murder of Black civilians, it would be a disgrace for the UK to supply him with the arms and equipment he will use to do so.

If this were any other leader, in any other country in the world, the suspension of any such exports is the least we could expect from the British government in response to their actions, and our historic alliance with the United States is no reason to shirk that responsibility now.

Indeed, because our alliance is above all based on the values we share with the American people, that is all the more reason why we must not supply arms and equipment that Donald Trump is willing to use to attack his own people, in total contravention of those values.

I hope that you will investigate these points and provide me with an urgent response. The British public deserve to know how arms exported by this country are being used across the world, and the American public deserve the right to protest peacefully without the threat of violent repression.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon Emily Thornberry MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade