After witnessing the excessive force American police have used on Black Lives Matter demonstrators, hundreds of people have written to me to demand the urgent suspension of exports of tear gas, rubber bullets and other riot control equipment to the US.
I find any UK involvement in this brutal response deeply troubling. I have sent the letter below to International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss, asking for urgent answers.
Rt Hon Liz Truss MP
The Department for International Trade
King Charles Street
15 June 2020
Dear Secretary of State,
I am writing to you with urgent questions about the export of riot control equipment to the United States, following American police response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.
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 has threatened the deployment of the US military to escalate this response.
As you know, it has been the policy of successive governments over the past two decades to refuse arms export licences for arms and equipment that might be used for internal repression. 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. Our historic alliance with the United States should not force us to make an exception.
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:
- 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
- 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 threatening to use the US military to crush the legitimate protests taking place across America, it would be a disgrace for the UK to supply him with the arms and equipment he will use to do so.
Many hundreds of constituents have written to me about this matter. I hope that you will be able to reassure them that we will use this opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to human rights and supporting peaceful protest.
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.
Thangam Debbonaire MP