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UK arms sales help spread human rights, Tobias Ellwood tells ExCeL’s DSEI arms fair

PUBLISHED: 19:31 15 September 2017 | UPDATED: 19:38 15 September 2017

Minister for defence people and veterans Tobias Ellwood at DSEI (Picture: Alex Shaw)

Minister for defence people and veterans Tobias Ellwood at DSEI (Picture: Alex Shaw)

Alex Shaw

The arms fair at ExCeL helps spread human rights to repressive regimes, a government minister said today.

More than 100 anti-arms trade protesters were arrested ahead of the event in east London while trying to stop weapons arriving for the Defence and Security Equipment International conference in the Silvertown exhibition centre.

Britain cannot promote democracy as it arms “a roll call of despots, dictatorships and human rights abusers,” the campaigners argue.

Around 34,000 visitors and 1,600 exhibitors were at the four-day event, which ended today.

But Veterans’ Minister Tobias Ellwood insisted that the UK was “a force for good”.

“The leverage and influence that Britain has around the world is important,” he told the East London Advertiser, “and it’s quite distinctive from the arms sales that we have.”

The lucrative deals let Britain stand up to dictators and “affect change” in a way not possible if they shopped elsewhere, he said.

“That is not to give any excuses whatsoever,” the minister added. “We want to advance the rule of law, democracy and human rights, and we do that and take full advantage of the closeness that we have with our relationships.”

Arms sales take place under tight rules, he pointed out.

Six of the 56 countries invited to the arms fair are on the Foreign Office’s human rights watch list.

Three of these – Bahrain, Colombia and Saudi Arabia – are called “core markets” for arms deals by the Department for International Trade.

Mr Ellwood left surrounded by his minders who limited questions from journalists.

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