UK government approved supply of lethal chemicals to Syria

The UK government approved the export of materials used in chemical weapons to the Assad regime, long after civil war broke out in Syria, MPs have found.

Two export licences for dual-use chemicals were approved by the government in January 2012, according to a report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls (CAEC).

MPs described the decision to grant the licences as "irresponsible" and attacked claims by the government that there were no grounds to refuse them as "grossly inaccurate."

"The decision of the present Government to give two export licence approvals for dual-use chemicals to Syria in January 2012 after the civil war had started in Syria in 2011 was irresponsible," they found

"[Their] claim that at the time the two dual-use chemical export licences for sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to Syria were approved in January 2012 'there were no grounds for refusal' is grossly inaccurate," they added.

Licence applications for the export of sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to Syria were not even passed for approval to ministers in the Department of Business.

"There was a serious failure of due process within the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in that neither of the licence applications for the export of sodium fluoride or potassium fluoride to Syria in January 2012 was put to Ministers for approval," they found.

MPs were also refused permission by the government to question the suppliers of these chemicals in public.

“The committees had been unable to make a complete report to the House of Commons of its detailed scrutiny of government policy since 2004 on the export to Syria of dual-use chemicals that could be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons because the government refused to disclose to the committees the names of the companies to whom export licences were granted unless the committees undertook to take evidence from the companies in private, but not in public," a spokesperson said.

A decision to grant five export licences to Syria by the previous government between 2004 and 2010 was also attacked by the committee as "highly questionable" given the Assad regime's record on chemical weapons.

The government claims the chemicals supplied in 2012 were intended for manufacturing use and insist that the licences were cancelled.

"The UK aims to operate one the most robust and transparent export control systems in the world. Every application is examined rigorously against internationally-recognised criteria and particular attention is paid to human rights risks," a spokesperson said.

The reports also found that over 200 licences to sell British weapons to Russia – including missile-launching equipment – were still active despite claims from David Cameron on Monday that a full arms embargo was in place.