Sadiq Khan has told the organisers of an arms fair due to take place in London next month to “reconsider” their event and not come back to the city.
In letters seen by The Independent, the mayor said the fair’s presence in London was insulting to people who had escaped violence and made London their home, and that it threatened investment in the city’s Docklands, as well as costing too much to police.
He argued that the capital was “home to many people who have fled conflict and suffered as a consequence” of weapons “like those exhibited at DSEI”.
“For it to be used as a marketplace for those who wish to trade in weapons to some countries that contribute to human rights abuses goes completely against our values.”
DSEI, which stands for Defence and Security Equipment International, sees 1,600 exhibitors, selling weapons from sniper rifles and tanks to combat aircraft and warships, presenting to more than 30,000 attendees.
The arms fair extends invitations to governments and militaries around the world, including many that are involved in conflict or that openly abuse human rights.
Around two-thirds of countries classified as “not free” because of their human rights records received weapons licensed by the UK government over the past decade, according to research by Campaign Against Arms Trade – with DSEI representing a major marketing opportunity.
In his letters to the organisers the mayor cited the cost of policing the event, which in 2019 – in light of “significant opposition” to its presence – cost over £2.5m and involved 5,609 police officers.
“I strongly urge you to reconsider this year’s event and any plans you have to host future events in the city,” he said in a letter to Grant Burgham, the event’s director.
Mr Khan announced last year that he was relocating City Hall to the part of Docklands where, coincidentally, the event takes place, in order to save cash.
But in his letter he said that he was “becoming increasingly concerned” about the impact the arms fair might have on securing investment and change in the area.
In a letter responding to Mr Khan, Mr Burgham said: “The event serves only the interests of the legitimate defence and security industry, which is the most highly and tightly regulated in the world.
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“Teams from HMRC, BEIS [the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy], DIT-ECJU [the part of the Department for International Trade that deals with export control] and the other government agencies responsible for enforcing the law at DSEI are on site during setup and throughout the exhibition.
“We will be welcoming ministers from the UK government, as well as MPs from across parliament, who will meet British companies and underscore the important role that the defence and security sector plays. International official defence delegations are also invited to attend by the Department for International Trade, providing delegates with the opportunity to see equipment, much of it British-made, up close.”
He said the organisers “respect the right to lawful protest”.
Kirsten Bayes, a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade, which campaigns against DSEI, said: “The mayor is absolutely right that this arms fair should not be taking place in September. He is also right to point out that so many people fleeing conflicts globally have made their home in east London, where the fair is due to take place: it will have a huge impact practically and emotionally on local people.
“Our view is that holding arms fairs anywhere is wrong: the industry makes its profits through creating death and disaster around the world. Local communities have stood up against these fairs wherever they have been held across the country, whether that is Liverpool or Glasgow, Bristol or Birmingham. Our country needs to say no to the trade in dreadful weapons, stand up for peace and human rights, and put an end to these arms fairs.”
The mayor’s written intervention goes beyond his previous criticism, in which he made his opposition in principle clear. As mayor he has little power to prevent the event from taking place.