Britain halts new arms export licences for Turkey

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announces move after other EU nations suspended sales

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is seen outside Downing Street in London, Britain, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Britain is to halt new arms export licences to Turkey because of its military operation against Kurdish forces in north-east Syria, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Tuesday.

Arms campaigners said the move was largely symbolic and “too little, too late” after £1.1 billion (Dh5.16bn) worth of licences for weapons sales to Turkey were issued since 2014.

The UK’s decision to halt licences came after France, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany announced suspensions of exports to Turkey.

“The UK government takes its arms export control responsibilities very seriously and in this case we will keep our defence exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review,” Mr Raab told Parliament.

“No further export licences to Turkey for items that might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”

The conflict was raised during a conversation between UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday when they expressed their “deep concerns” at the Turkish incursion, Downing Street said.

Britain has joined France, Germany, Belgium and Poland to request a meeting of the UN Security Council, which is likely to take place on Wednesday.

France’s Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, criticised the US and Turkey on Tuesday for decisions that he said would inevitably lead to a resurgence of ISIS.

The licences agreed to since August 2014 include £206 million drones and aircraft, £84m for tanks and armoured vehicles, and a similar amount for grenades and missiles, the Campaign Against Arms Trade group said.

Former prime minister Theresa May in 2017 agreed to a £100m fighter jet deal with Turkey.

The Turkish military pension fund also struck an agreement to take British Steel out of insolvency by the end of 2019, possibly saving 5,000 jobs.

Mr Raab said that the EU would keep the threat of sanctions under review after deciding not to follow the US lead to penalise senior officials.

While paying tribute to Turkey as a “staunch” Nato member, Mr Raab said: “This is not the action we expected from an ally.

“It is reckless, it is counterproductive and it plays straight into the hands of the Assad regime.”

The announcement on Tuesday does not affect any of those projects or licences that can run for up to five years, the anti-arms trade group said.

“If this move is to be more than symbolic then there can be no return to business as usual,” the group's Andrew Smith said.

“It’s time that the rights of Kurdish people were finally put ahead of arms company profits.”

Mr Raab announced the review after Mr Johnson expressed “grave concern” about the military operation in a call with Mr Erdogan on Saturday but stopped short of a weapons embargo.

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