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Government Continues to Not Explain Steps Backwards on Arms Export Transparency

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The UK government has continued to offer minimal responses to questions as to why it abruptly reversed itself on transparency requirements for arms exports – an issue AOAV and Saferworld first raised in August.

In response to a query from Zac Goldsmith MP, the former Minister of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Michael Fallon MP wrote, “In extending this commitment to transparency it has become clear that we need to strike a proper balance between increased transparency and the need to minimise administrative burdens on business. The original proposals did not strike that balance. In making the final preparations for the launch of the Transparency initiative we reviewed its scope and the potential for it to impose unnecessary burdens on business.”

This response hardly sheds any light on the government’s rationale for decreasing reporting requirements previously agreed with exporters. Given that exporters already keep detailed records on precisely what goods they export, eliminating the rating or good description reporting requirement does not substantially lower the burden on businesses. It will, however, make it much harder for the public to keep track of what goods are being exported.

The recent revelations that British firms received permission to export chemical weapons precursors to Syria demonstrate the paramount importance of greater oversight and transparency on this issue.

AOAV has sent a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ask whether these changes were made in consultation with particular businesses, or whether the impetus for them came from within the government.