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New Defence Secretary urged to ditch predecessor's failed policies

Grant Shapps

New Defence Secretary urged to ditch predecessor's failed policies

Grant Shapps has been urged to end military support for regimes such as Saudi Arabia and cancel the upcoming London arms fair.

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU), Britain’s leading pacifist network, urged the new Defence Secretary to make a clean break with his predecessor Ben Wallace’s enthusiastic support for arms companies, high military spending and the provision of military training to tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia.

But the PPU acknowledged that such a policy change is unlikely and said that the DSEI arms fair will face protests and nonviolent direct action from a wide range of people and organisations if it goes ahead in London’s Excel Centre from 12th to 15th September.

Grant Shapps is thus likely to face protests if, as expected, he attends DSEI in his new role as Defence Secretary. When Shapps was Business Secretary he negotiated deals with the Saudi regime.

Faced with challenging questions at the last DSEI arms fair, in 2021, Ben Wallace insisted that "The Saudis have been our friends for many, many, many decades".

The PPU today pointed out that during Ben Wallace’s time in office, the UK’s military expenditure has become the fourth highest in the world, while Wallace has failed to take any meaningful action after a string of revelations about sexual abuse within the armed forces. Freedom of Information requests revealed that 1 in 10 young women aged 16 or 17 in the British army reported being raped or sexual assaulted in 2021.

The biennial London arms fair – known euphemistically as Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEI) – involves representatives of the world’s governments and armed forces meeting arms companies at the Excel Centre in London Docklands. It is due to take place from Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 September 2023.

The PPU is just one member of the Stop the Arms Fair coalition, which brings together local residents, peace groups and victims of the arms trade to challenge DSEI. Protests are planned from 4 to 15 September.

Symon Hill, Campaigns Manager of the Peace Pledge Union (PPU), said:

The praise for the departing Ben Wallace is bizarre. He is an apologist for oppressive regimes and arms dealers. Wallace’s time in office has seen a flood of revelations about the abuse of young recruits to the British armed forces, but Wallace has barely spoken about it, let alone taken action.

While ministers rightly condemn Russian atrocities in Ukraine, all these comments are undermined and discredited by their provision of arms and military training to the forces of Saudi Arabia, who are killing civilians in Yemen in much the same way that Putin’s forces are killing civilians in Russia.

Grant Shapps has an opportunity to focus on real defence, by ditching his predecessor’s militaristic policies, concentrating on the underlying causes of war and tackling the real threats to our security, including poverty, pandemics and climate chaos. Sadly, there is no sign that Shapps will move on from the failed policies on militarism. Thankfully there are plenty of people willing to speak out and take action against militarism and the arms industry, whether in the UK, Russia or anywhere else.”

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