George Floyd: Labour and SNP call on UK government to suspend export of riot control equipment to US during unrest

Labour and the SNP are demanding the government suspends the export of riot control equipment to the US amid the protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Labour says there should be a review into whether the equipment is being used in response to the demonstrations, while the SNP said it would be “nothing short of hypocrisy” if the UK was to “turn a blind eye to events unfolding in the US”.

Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, made the call in a letter to her government counterpart Liz Truss.

She said it would be a “disgrace” if the UK supplied equipment to US authorities to tackle the protests against police brutality.

Ms Thornberry called on ministers to suspend all licences that allow British firms to sell riot control equipment to police forces in America.

“I’m sure you will agree that, at a time when Donald Trump is gearing up to use the US military to crush the legitimate protests taking place across America over the murder of black civilians, it would be a disgrace for the UK to supply him with the arms and equipment he will use to do so,” she wrote.

American police have faced sustained criticism for the methods used during the unrest, with batons, tear gas and shields deployed against unarmed civilians.

The protests were sparked by the death of Mr Floyd, a black man, last week in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The 46-year-old died in police custody after a white officer refused to lift his knee from Mr Floyd’s neck, despite him saying he could not breathe.

Derek Chauvin, the police officer in question, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers have been fired.

Protests have spread across the US since, with dozens of cities seeing demonstrators take to the streets.

A licence from the Department for International Trade is needed in order to allow British businesses to export arms.

An unnamed company has been given one to sell a range of crowd control items to US police and military buyers, including CS hand grenades, anti-riot guns and projectiles, and tear gas capsules.

“If there is a risk that any of these riot control projectiles and equipment are being used in the United States against peaceful, unarmed civilians, then the government must act immediately to stop their export,” Ms Thornberry said.

She called on the government to “publish a comprehensive list of all current export licences to the USA of riot control projectiles and equipment, along with all available end-user data to clarify who has purchased these items and for what declared purpose within the last five years”.

Ms Thornberry also demanded that ministers “suspend all existing licences and halt the issue of any new licences for the export of riot control projectiles and equipment to the United States until you have determined whether any of these items are being used in response to the ongoing protests, or risk being used in the coming days if the US military is deployed as part of that response”.

“The UK has been vocal on human rights, freedom to gather and protest, freedom of speech, and upholding press freedom in other parts of the world,” said Stewart Hosie, the SNP’s international trade spokesperson.

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