Liverpool arms fair: Corbyn and Peake join protest

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skeleton replica held aloft during protest march
Image caption,
Protesters want the arms fair to be cancelled

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the actress Maxine Peake have joined thousands of protesters calling for the cancellation of a Liverpool arms fair.

The annual AOC Europe event was initially meant to take place in the city in 2020 but has been postponed due to the pandemic until 12-13 October.

Liverpool mayor Joanne Anderson said it was "at odds" with the city's values.

The Arena and Convention Centre (ACC), which is hosting the fair, said it was "booked in good faith".

Held in a different European city every year, the AOC arms fair has drawn figures from governments, academia and military industries since its launch more than 25 years ago.

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Local MPs have called on the ACC venue to cancel the event, including Liverpool West Derby MP Ian Byrne, who submitted a motion in Parliament, saying the equipment on show is used "by regimes that have abused human rights and civil liberties".

An AOC arms fair spokesman said they respected "the right to lawful protest" and that the fair "serves only the legitimate defence and security industry, which is the most highly and tightly regulated in the world".

"We work in close partnership with the UK government, and all visitors to our events are vetted and undergo the strictest scrutiny before being allowed access."

He added that exhibitors were required to ensure that anything on display "complies with domestic and international law" and "appropriate action is taken" against any contraventions.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The arms fair is due to be held at Liverpool's Arena and Convention Centre in mid-October

More than 5,600 people have signed a petition calling for the event to be dropped and, on Friday, the band Massive Attack cancelled their ACC concert in protest.

The Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, described the arms fair as "a sales pitch".

"They are trying to flog their goods to the highest bidder and I think that commercial approach to the safety of the world is not good and it's not right and I don't think our city should be associated with it."

An ACC spokesman said: "These events are not transactional - they are about exchanging ideas and developing relationships."

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Liverpool mayor Joanne Anderson said the arms fair "raises moral questions"

In a statement, the venue added: "The event was contracted in May 2019 and is estimated to deliver in the region of £1m in economic impact.

"It was booked in good faith, via industry and venue standard event review processes, and in line with the City Region's inward investment strategy on defence."

They said Liverpool was an "important city within the defence sector, with over £2bn of MoD budget currently spent in the region, supporting 12,500 jobs".

Ethical charter

The venue is owned by the city's council, however Labour mayor Joanne Anderson said the authority was powerless to intervene.

In a statement, she said she had tried legal avenues to cancel the event but these had failed.

She added that the arms fair was "at odds with the socialist and peaceful values held by the council and that it raises moral and ethical questions".

The city council is setting up an ethical charter - requiring future events to adhere to the council's values - which will involve contribution from the ACC.

The venue said it had "requested clarity" on its impact on local investment.

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