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FAC: Arms Export Decisions - Process Clarification

24 April 2024

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron has written to the Foreign Affairs Committee, outlining the processes by which decisions are made on arms export licences and potential breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL).

While the Business and Trade Secretary decides whether to “amend, suspend or revoke” licences, the Foreign Secretary has responsibility to provide advice on the conformity of export licence applications with the Strategic Export Licensing Criteria.

The Foreign Secretary explains that his advice draws on “open-source evidence, intelligence, accounts of diplomatic and ministerial engagements and correspondence with the relevant country”. The resulting policy assessments are not “legal” judgements but are informed by legal advice.

The letter says that “where there might be concerns, isolated incidents or processes that could be improved, Ministers might still judge that there is not a clear risk that the export of relevant goods to that country might be used to commit to facilitate a serious violation of IHL. This would depend on whether the country has a genuine intent, capacity and commitment more broadly to comply with IHL.”

The letter concludes that – although the extant export licences for Israel have been kept under review since the 7 October Hamas attack – the UK position on export licences remains unchanged.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns MP, said:

“This letter provides clarity on the processes behind the UK’s decision-making on arms export licences, but it also raises some questions.

Despite the Foreign Secretary’s words to the contrary, there isn’t consensus between likeminded countries. Longstanding partners and allies – such as Canada and Italy – have announced a suspension of arms exports to Israel.

The Foreign Secretary’s letter indicates that intent and commitment to complying with international humanitarian law are heavily weighted when considering whether a serious breach has occurred. In the House, Ministers have frequently been asked whether a commitment to IHL is being demonstrated, no clear answer has been received.”

Further information

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