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Arms fair opens in London to widespread resistance

People holding a large banner reading "Say no to killing, say no to the arms fair".

Arms fair opens in London to widespread resistance

The first day of the DSEI arms fair has seen protests, criticism and nonviolent direct aciton at London’s Excel Centre.

The London arms fair – known euphemistically as Defence & Security Equipment International or DSEI – brings together arms companies with representatives of governments and armed forces around the world.

This year, the list of countries invited to DSEI by the UK government includes eight countries who are on the UK government’s own list of “countries of concern” in relation to human rights.

As arms dealers, exhibitors and military officers queued up the event, they were greeted by a memorial event for victims of war and the arms trade organised by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain’s leading pacifist organisation.

PPU members and allies read out the names of recent victims of war from around the world, before laying a wreath of white poppies at the entrance to the arms fair. An additional wreath of white poppies was laid by Mid-Wales Quakers, who had travelled to London to join the protests.

Matthew Harbage, a member of PPU’s elected national Council, introduced the ceremony, explaining, “As we remember them, we challenge the perpetuation of war and the arms trade, fuelled by the DSEI arms fair taking place here this week, which will create more death and suffering. Remembrance leads us to resistance.”

The day also saw protests organised by faith groups, refugee campaigners and human rights organisations.

At one point, a road leading to the arms fair was blockaded by people from several groups - including PPU members – holding extra-large banners.

A migrant justice protest was organised by groups including the All-African Women’s Group and Newham Anti-Raids, a workshop was run by Patients Not Passports, and Quakers held a Meeting for Worship immediately outside the entrance.

Recent days had already seen a string of protests and direct actions to impede the set-up of the fair, with at least nine peaceful protesters arrested on Thursday (7 September).

The DSEI arms fair has also been criticised by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

I hate having this arms fair so close to me and in this borough,” explained Lucy, a local resident who has been campaigning against the DSEI arms fair for 20 years. “It’s just poisonous. It shouldn’t be anywhere, but it’s a slap in the face here. We’ve got lots of refugees and we’ve got loads of poverty, and then we’ve got all these fat cats trading weapons.”

She added, “It’s very alienating”.

Resistance is expected to continue all week. Tomorrow (Wednesday) will see a protest at the Department for Business and Trade, the UK government department that organises DSEI. The arms fair is due to close on Friday.

Julia, a PPU member who travelled from Hampshire to join the protests, described DSEI as “morally indefensible”. She said it was good to see such a wide range of people campaigning against the arms fair. She explained, “There are many people who believe a different way is possible , and we’re not alone. There is hope.”


The Peace Pledge Union is a group of people who pledge to reject war and to tackle the causes of war. We are the British section of War Resisters’ International. Join us!