Freeze UK sales of riot gear to US police amid protest violence, says Thornberry

Shadow trade secretary Emily Thornberry has said it would be a “disgrace” if the UK supplied equipment to US authorities to crush protests against police brutality.

In a letter to Liz Truss, her government counterpart, the Labour MP called on the Government to suspend all licences that allow British companies to sell riot control kit to American police forces.

“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,” she wrote.

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry

US police have faced criticism for the way they have dealt with the unrest, using batons, tear gas and shields against unarmed civilians.

The protests erupted when George Floyd, a black man, died in police custody after an officer refused to lift his knee from Mr Floyd’s neck, despite protests that he could not breathe.

Prosecutors have charged the officer, Derek Chauvin, with third-degree murder and manslaughter, while three other officers have been fired.

Police have clashed with protesters for several days. On Monday, a largely peaceful crowd in front of the White House was dispersed with tear gas so Mr Trump could pose with a bible at a nearby church.

British businesses wanting to export arms need a Government licence.

The Department for International Trade has issued a licence to an unnamed company to sell a range of crowd control items to US police and military buyers.

They include CS hand grenades, anti-riot guns and projectiles, and tear gas capsules.

“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,” Ms Thornberry said.

She asked Ms Truss 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 also said the Government should “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”.

She added: “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 call from the Labour frontbencher echoes calls on Monday from human rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty spokesman Oliver Feeley-Sprague said: “After the shocking images of the police and National Guard using excessive force against Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis, the UK should immediately freeze all policing and security equipment export licences to the US where there’s a clear risk of further misuse – something the UK is obliged to do under its own laws.

“Given the evidence emerging from numerous US cities, there’s a very real risk of UK-manufactured tear gas or rubber bullets being used against George Floyd protesters in dangerous and highly inappropriate ways – something that ministers need to respond to.

“Ministers should be making detailed, case-by-case assessments of any requests for equipment from individual US police forces – withholding exports from any that have clearly acted irresponsibly during the current crisis.

“The UK has a dreadful track record of looking the other way when UK arms and security equipment is misused overseas, even, in some cases, seeking to justify such misuse. Now is the time to start changing that.”