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Fri, 3 July 2020

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By Andrew McQuillan
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Labour’s Emily Thornberry demands freeze on sale of riot gear to the US amid unrest over George Floyd death

Labour’s Emily Thornberry demands freeze on sale of riot gear to the US amid unrest over George Floyd death

Curfews have been imposed across several major US cities.

3 min read

It would be a “disgrace” if Britain supplied riot control equipment that is then used to clampdown on protests against police brutality in the United States, Emily Thornberry has declared.

The Shadow Trade Secretary has written to her government counterpart Liz Truss urging ministers to suspend all export licenses granted to British companies who sell the equipment.

The demand comes in the wake of days of unrest in the US following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for eight minutes while arresting him for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 banknote.

Ms Thornberry wrote: “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.”

President Trump has faced sharp criticism in the US after federal authorities were ordered to remove protesters near the White House in order to make way for a photo opportunity for the commander-in-chief.

Ms Thornberry pointed to a report by the Department for International Trade which shows it gave the green light to the export of equipment including anti-riot guns, tear gas and riot shields to the United States.

And the Shadow Trade Secretary warned: “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.”

Labour is calling on the Government to 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”.

Ms Thornberry added: “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. 

"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."

The call from Ms Thornberry comes after a similar demand from campaign group Amnesty International and the Liberal Democrats. 

Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael saying President Trump had “threatened to use force against his own citizens”.

He added: “As things stand, our Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister have stood silent. Their silence is shameful.

"The Prime Minister must make clear that the 'special relationship' with the US will not survive flagrant abuses of human rights.

"The Liberal Democrats are supporting calls from Amnesty International to review the export of security equipment including rubber bullets and tear gas to the United States, given the evidence that they are being used to target unarmed civilians."

Responding to the calls, a Government spokesperson said: “We take our export responsibilities seriously and assess export licence applications in accordance with strict licensing criteria.”

Ministers have so far stopped short of criticising President Trump's handling of the protests, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying he would leave other world leaders "to comment on their own domestic policies".

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