MP demands answers on Syria exports


A Labour MP has demanded answers from ministers following claims that UK officials licensed the export of chemicals to Syria, which could have been used in the manufacture of nerve agents such as sarin.

During defence questions in the Commons on 2 September 2013, Labour MP David Winnick asked if it was true that export licences were granted in 2012, months after the Syrian uprising began.

"Is there any murderous regime anywhere [that] we're not willing to do business with?" he asked.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told Mr Winnick that the licences had been granted but were then revoked and "no such chemicals were exported".

The government has rejected newspaper claims, made over the weekend, that the UK exported potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride, which could have been used to make nerve agents.

The Sunday Mail reported that the export licences were granted in January 2012. The Department for Business responded that the licences were revoked after the introduction of EU sanctions.

The defence secretary told the Commons that there are "a significant number of industrial chemicals which have perfectly legitimate industrial uses" and ministers had to strike a balance.

The exchange came days after Parliament voted to reject a government motion on the principle that military action could be required to protect Syrian civilians.

The emergency debate on 29 August followed a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August, which reportedly killed hundreds of people.

Conservative MP Gerald Howarth raised concerns that the result of the vote could damage the UK's relationship with the United States, one which he described as "absolutely essential".

The defence secretary told him that he was confident the relationship "will remain a strong and resilient one".

Other topics raised with the defence team included the UK's nuclear deterrent; UK troops in Afghanistan; and strengthening the Military Covenant.

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