CAEC publishes report “Developments in UK Strategic Export Controls”
28 October 2022
Today four Commons Committees, collectively known as the Committees on Arms Export Control, publish their joint report “Developments in UK Strategic Export Controls”.
Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU)
The Committees acknowledge the hard and diligent work of the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) and welcome the ECJU Transformation Programme to improve transparency and customer experience for exporters. However, the report voices concern over the level of the unit’s engagement with stakeholders. The Committees are troubled by evidence regarding insufficient resources and technical knowledge within the ECJU and the reported reduction in technical experts accompanying compliance officers on visits.
Increased transparency on non-compliance and prosecutions needed
The Committees are concerned by the recent increase in the numbers of companies found to be non-compliant after a compliance revisit and the lack of information given in the Strategic Export Controls Annual Reports on specific companies and countries for findings of non-compliance. This raises questions over the effectiveness of compliance visits.
The report is concerned by the apparent low level of strategic exports and sanctions prosecutions and calls for data on convictions to be included in future Annual Reports.
Human rights and country case studies
The Committees call on the Government to show how it takes the list of human rights priority countries into account in licensing decisions and exercising export controls. The report spotlights countries of concern, including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Russia and Turkey.
Although the Committees recognise that it is not practicable to carry out post-shipment verification for all exports, it is disappointing that, despite the Government’s commitment to reviewing other countries’ process, this work has not progressed. It recommends that the Government instigate a pilot programme by 2025 of post-shipment verification and examine the potential benefits of the process.
Lack of Government co-operation
The report criticises the lack of co-operation and consultation by the Government with the Committees on changes to export controls, such as on the introduction of the new UK Strategic Export Licensing Criteria. The report expresses concern that this gives the impression that the Government do not attach the appropriate importance to parliamentary scrutiny of strategic export controls.
Committees on Arms Export Controls Chair, Mark Garnier MP, said:
“Arms export controls are essential to our security, both at home and overseas. Without well-considered controls and robust enforcement, we risk arms falling into the hands of adversaries and those who do not share our values on protecting human rights around the world.
“Throughout this inquiry, the Committees on Arms Export Controls have struggled with an apparent lack of co-operation from Government, especially in respect of ministers appearing before us. Without a sufficient level of engagement and transparency from Government departments, constructive parliamentary scrutiny cannot take place.
“It is highly unusual, and wholly unacceptable, that the relevant Government departments did not see fit to submit written evidence at the start of our inquiry, instead submitting a one-page letter giving a very brief general overview. Departments and ministers should be aware of the poor impression this gives: that the Government does not attach importance to the scrutiny of this sensitive policy area.
“The ECJU provides a vital service and has worked extremely hard in the face of delays caused by covid-19. There is no doubt that the staff are dedicated and diligent.
“However, evidence of insufficient resources and staffing within the ECJU, in stark contrast to the welcome boost in staffing in HMRC, has caused concern amongst the Committees. We’ve also heard reports of a lack of technical expertise. Today we’ve called for the ECJU Transformation programme to examine the level of expertise within the unit and for technical experts to regularly attend compliance visits.
“The Committees are concerned by a sharp increase in companies deemed non-compliant especially following revisits. The Government must be more transparent on the reasons for non-compliance.
“Low levels of transparency over prosecutions and convictions raise questions for the Committees. We were disappointed that Government dismissed enforcement as a matter only for HMRC. If legislation is ineffective, this should be of concern to both Government and Parliament. We need regularly published data on convictions for export control violations.
“Safety, security and human rights should be at the heart of our arms export policy. We’ve called for the mainstreaming of human rights considerations into arms export controls policy and for its inclusion in the Strategic Export Controls Annual Reports.
“The swift action taken in response to the situation in Hong Kong is a strong example of best practice. When it comes to Russia, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, the picture is more complex. Government should learn lessons from experience in these countries and take a more strategic and proactive approach to arms export controls.”