UK suspends new arms sales to Turkey for weapons that might be used in Syria

Posted On: 
15th October 2019

The UK is to halt new arms sales to Turkey where the weapons could be used in the conflict in Syria.

Turkish backed forces have taken territory in northern Syria since hostilities began last week.
Credit: 
PA

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said defence exports to the country would be put under "very careful and continual review" following a week of fighting in northern Syria.

Italy, France and Germany are among a host of other countries which have halted arms sales to the country since it launched its offensive against Kurdish forces.

Dozens of civilians have been killed, and an estimated 160,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claims is necessary to create a "buffer zone" on the border.

But stopping short of a wholesale ban on new exports, Mr Raab said the review would only apply to "items that might be used in military operation in Syria".

"The UK government takes its arm export control responsibilities very seriously and in this case, of course, we will keep our defence exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review," he told MPs.

"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."

According to Campaign Against The Arms Trade, the UK has licensed £1.1bn in sales to Turkey since 2014, including exports of tanks, helicopters and missiles.

But the group's spokesperson Andrew Smith said ministers had been "shamed" into the review as he called for a ban to be extended to all existing licenses.

"The truth is that it should never have been arming and supporting President Erdogan and his authoritarian regime in the first place," he said.

This change cannot only be limited future arms sales, it must also affect the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of arms that have been licensed over recent years. As long as those licences are still valid then those arms can be used. 

He added: "If this move is to be more than symbolic then there can be no return to business-as-usual. It's time that the rights of Kurdish people were finally put ahead of arms company profits."

Amnesty International's UK head of policy and government affairs, Allan Hogarth, said: "This is the right decision by the foreign secretary, and one that hasn't come a moment too soon.

"However, the government must be clear that this will also apply to all existing licenses.

"The UK has a responsibility to minimise the risk of UK weaponry contributing to violations of international humanitarian law."

Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretary said the hostilites had "played into the hands" of Russia as he called for Turkey to "exercise maximum restraint and to bring an end to this unilateral military action." 

"With close partners, we must at times be candid and clear," he added.

"This is not the action we expected from an ally. It is reckless, it is counter-productive."