A few hours after the International Development Committee called for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi, the arms industry body (ADS) was praising defence minister Michael Fallon for his “tremendous support” at its £250/a head annual dinner at the Hilton. While British bombs are being dropped in Yemen, government ministers and MPs were being wined-and-dined by the same arms companies that are profiting from the conflict.
The Saudi-led bombing of Yemen has killed thousands and caused a humanitarian crisis. 14 million people are facing food insecurity and 1.4 million children are acutely malnourished. There have been indiscriminate attacks on civilians target including schools, hospitals, a wedding and mosques. Yet despite a UN report documenting ‘widespread and systematic‘ attacks in violation of international humanitarian law, the UK has continued to support the attacks and provide weapons and military advisers to Saudi Arabia.
Extravagant events like the ADS dinner are a way in which the arms industry tries to legitimise and sanitise itself; glamorising the technology and removing any mention that the industry makes a profit out of conflict and death. And it’s difficult to reconcile the Hilton in Mayfair with the war zones and human rights abuses in places like Yemen and Palestine which are made enabled by the companies at the dinner.
The UK government’s support for the arms trade is crucial for its existence, both politically and financially.
But the arms dealers did not dine in peace. About 40 people from several different groups greeted the attendees with a loud blockade using body bags and big banners. Several activists were ejected from the Hilton after speaking out about the impact of the arms trade in the hotel lobby. The protest put a spotlight on the government’s hypocrisy by its complicity in the Saudi attacks while at the same time providing humanitarian aid to Yemen. It also made it impossible for the luxury event to go ahead unnoticed.
The pressure to Stop Arming Saudi is growing. As well as the UN report and the International Development Committee’s announcement; nearly 5,000 people have added their name to the #StopArmingSaudi petition.
Arms companies and government representatives strive to insulate themselves from the destruction they are responsible for. It’s crucial that we make it impossible for these events to be treated as business as usual when the companies involved are tearing lives apart in places like Yemen and Palestine.
Who was there?
As well as representatives from the world’s largest arms companies like BAE Systems and Raytheon, last year 40 MPs from government and opposition benches were at the dinner. This year, ADS were keen to keep the guest list from us. We know the following MPs and civil servants were there:
- Michael Fallon, Defence Minister
- Mark Lancaster, Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans
- The Ministry of Defence’s RAF chief engineer
- Daniel Finkelstein of the Times was reported to have given a ‘hilarious’ speech
Was your MP there? Ask your MP if they attended the ADS dinner and let us know if they did by emailing enquiries[@]caat[.]org[.]uk
Last year someone managed to get in and surprise the ADS attendees…