Just when it seems our whole nation is calling for a resolution to way in which the Syrian state is treating its citizens, and our Government is being forced against its will to match the public offers to house thousands of refugees a rather embarrassing event is about to take place in Londons Dockland. The bi-annual Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition opens next Tuesday and already exhibitors are beginning to arrive at Excel and based on previous years we can expect some arrests and expulsions from the exhibition by those opposed to this disgusting arms trade taking place on British soil. Some would argue that there can be no legitimate trade in arms. Others would simply point to consecutive DSEI exhibitions when illegal weapons have been spotted on display, leading to expulsion but no proper action against exhibitors. In 2011 Caroline Lucas identified cluster bombs on one of the stands, in 2013 weapons of torture where identified on another. My professional background is in electronic engineering and I studied with men (and a few women) who have subsequently worked in the ‘defence’ industry. The idea that we can hermetically seal our nation from dangerous weapons of warfare is naïve and unrealistic. However by the same token, the idea that we should agree to do business with all nation states irrespective of their human rights record and other uncertain organisations that are in the market for these products of death is a clear sign of failure. In a modern democracy we should be able to influence what our Government does to a much greater extent than we do. DSEI would not exist without the proactive support of the Government and attendance by Ministers, yet this same proactive energy seems to look the other way when cluster bombs are arriving in customs, get unpacked in the exhibition hall and until people like Caroline Lucas spots them they remain on full view despite all of the experience our governments advisers can bring to bear in such settings.
We live in a complex world and as much as I might like there to be simplistic solutions to problems I understand that this unrealistic. However in a week when Syrian children are being pulled out of the sea having drowned because they and their parents where fleeing a conflict caused by a state that is misusing weapon systems against the innocent, we surely must ask ourselves if events like DSEI are appropriate in our Capital City? If the Government is not willing to withdraw its support for DSEI lets at least ensure that only legal weapons and legitimate organisations are able to trade on our soil, and lets use our influence to find a way of addressing the humanitarian peace winning elements needed in every conflict. If there are to be arrests, let them be for those with the cluster bombs in their brief cases, not those who have an understandable reason for protesting. Finally if DSEI is to open next Tuesday as planned, could we ensure that all discussions about refugees have been resolved before it does!