Documents seen by i weekend show that Britain almost doubled the value of defence equipment, including fighter jets and munitions, it cleared for export in 2017, as it vies with Vladimir Putin’s Russia to be the world’s second largest weapons supplier.
The £6.6bn of UK arms licences represents an 83 per cent rise on the previous year. Senior ministers have promised to grow defence exports ahead of Brexit and manufacturers have been boosted by a succession of lucrative deals, particularly in the Middle East.
Sales to Saudi Arabia, Britain’s largest arms customer, alone rose by two-thirds and the export of Typhoon jets to Oman in a vast £1.4bn deal underlined the UK’s strength in military aviation – the most profitable defence sector.
The eventual value of sales last year will reach £9bn – the second highest for a decade, according to separate Government figures.
The increase represents a boon for the UK’s defence companies and communities supported by the sector, which is worth £22bn a year to the British economy.
Exports to Saudi Arabia last year rose by 66 per cent to £1.13bn and those to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) rose by 94 per cent to £260m, according an analysis of defence exports cleared by Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade (DIT). …
The 139 separate arms consignments licensed for Saudi Arabia last year included a £2.7m contract for “components for bombs”.
The oil-rich kingdom is the only known export customer for Britain’s Paveway IV smart bombs, which the UK government has acknowledged have been used in Yemen. …
A poll this month showed that nearly two-thirds of Britons are now opposed to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, including a majority of Conservative voters.
Arms sales data nonetheless suggests that Mr Fox is succeeding in his promise to “personally lead” the expansion of post-Brexit defence exports.
DIT data shows substantial new deals were signed in 2017 with previously small-scale partners including Turkey (£583m), Thailand (£35m), Indonesia (£89m) and Botswana (£9m).
But the Middle East remained the overwhelming focus for arms sales.
The proportion of UK defence exports destined for the region increased to 67 per cent of the total last year from 49 per cent in 2016. The document said the Middle East remains the “dominant UK defence export destination”.