Welsh Government's role at arms fair to be reviewed

By James Williams
BBC Wales political correspondent

image copyrightReuters
image captionEarlier this year, campaigners won a legal challenge over the UK government's decision to allow arms sales to Saudi Arabia

The Welsh Government's stand at one of the world's biggest arms fairs is to be reviewed, the first minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said it attended Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) in London to support cyber security businesses, not those in the arms trade.

But Plaid Cymru AM Leanne Wood called the event "abhorrent" and condemned his government for attending.

Organisers said visitors must comply with UK and international law.

The event, which ends on Friday and is held every two years, is sponsored by the UK government's Ministry of Defence.

Speaking there on Wednesday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the sector brought in "sales worth more than £19bn" to the UK economy.

The UK government has invited representatives of countries it has on a human rights watch list, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, to attend the event.

In June, judges ruled that the UK government's decision to allow arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in the long-running war in Yemen, was unlawful.

Ms Wood said: "This is an event where weapons and warfare equipment ranging from tear gas and missiles to fighter planes and warships will be promoted and traded between governments known for their human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt."

image captionSaudi Arabia's warplanes and munitions are supplied by the UK and US

The Welsh Government has had a presence at the show for eight years, with ministers attending in 2015 and 2017.

In marketing material for this year's event, it said: "Wales is a cornerstone of UK defence operations, through training the defence industry workforce of the future, as well as the availability of secure sites and airspace."

Mr Drakeford said the Welsh Government's stall was "to support important Welsh companies" involved in cyber-security, "not directly in the arms area".

"Those companies need to be able to display what they have to offer to people who want to buy their products - that's why we will be supporting them at that event," he added.

"But I will be reviewing whether or not this is the best way to support those companies from now on."

Ms Wood, Plaid Cymru's social justice spokeswoman said: "That the Labour Welsh Government is a sponsor and has a stall at such an abhorrent event is disgraceful and should be unequivocally condemned."

Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesman Andrew Smith said: "The Welsh government should not be supporting this event, or using it as a promotional vehicle of any kind.

"The weapons being sold at this arms fair could be used in abuses and atrocities for years to come. DSEI needs to be closed down for good, not celebrated."

DSEI organiser Clarion Defence and Security said on its website visitors must adhere to the "highest regulatory scrutiny, complying with UK and international laws, treaties and conventions".

It said it worked closely with the UK government, which invited all international delegations, to ensure strict compliance.

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