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It’s show time for Bristol’s arms industry


Bristol arms companies will be promoting themselves in Cardiff on 28th March.

Photo: Shoal Collective

Several arms companies operating in Bristol will be attending an ‘arms fair’ in Cardiff next Tuesday (28th). The event, known as DPRTE – Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability – will take place in Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena and a protest is planned outside.

The controversial event has been targeted by anti-arms trade campaigners each year since the first took place at UWE Bristol in 2013, where it was met by demonstrations from students and local people. At the time, Mike Campbell, an activist with Bristol Against the Arms Trade (BAAT) accused UWE of “legitimising the arms trade by letting the event go ahead”.

In 2015 and 2016, DPRTE took place, like this year, at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. Protests took place again at both events resulting in arrests. In 2015, two people—including one person from Bristol—were arrested. They were found not guilty of criminal damage and Public Order Act charges the following year.

UWE had been accused of “legitimising the arms trade by letting the event go ahead”.

In 2016, activists staged a rooftop occupation of the Motorpoint Arena. Police brought in dogs and horses in an attempt to control the 150-strong crowd outside. This time, six people were arrested, including one man from Bristol. A video was released apparently showing police violence against the protesters.

Why the controversy?

Campaigners claim that large defence contractors exhibiting at the event supply weapons to repressive regimes and that their products are used on innocent civilians.

BAE Systems, which trades from Southmead Road, Filton, is one of the key exhibitors at DPRTE. BAE has supplied weapons to the Turkish military for their attacks on Kurdish people and to Israel for its oppression of Palestinians. BAE’s third largest market is Saudi Arabia. In 2014, the company won a contract worth £4.4 billion to supply fighter jets to Saudi, some of which, according to The Independent were used to bomb the Red Cross and Medecins Sans Frontiers in Yemen in 2015. According to Bristol Against the Arms Trade (BAAT), BAE’s Filton site is involved in the design of warships and submarines, maintenance for military aircraft and provides support for the UK’s Taranis drone programme.

Boeing, which has a headquarters in Bristol Business Park, is also an exhibitor at DPRTE. Boeing has supplied Apache helicopters for Saudi war crimes in Yemen and Israel’s attacks on Gaza. The company is also supplying the Turkish airforce with Chinook helicopters. Turkey has used helicopters in attacks on urban residential areas in Kurdish cities. Boeing, a US multinational company, is the second largest arms exporter in the world. Boeing Defence UK is a subsidiary of the US firm. According to BAAT, in Bristol Boeing is working with UK Defence Procurement and is partnering with Bristol university on an engineering programme, which involves the development of drones.

An arms fair – or a ‘procurement event’?

DPRTE bills itself as “the UK’s leading defence procurement event”. Event organiser, BiP Solutions, is marketing the fair as a chance for smaller companies to gain access to large defence contracts. BiP Solutions boasts: “With an annual spend of over £19bn on equipment and services the UK defence sector represents a fantastic opportunity for organisations looking to supply to this marketplace. DPRTE 2017 will provide a unique opportunity to gain access to defence procurement buyers”.

BiP has always maintained the event is not an arms fair. However, the event’s opponents strongly disagree. According to Kat Hobbs of Campaign Against Arms Trade “We have heard time and again they are not selling weapons… DPRTE is a weapons fair. The primary purpose of DPRTE is for arms manufacturers to network. Regardless of whether deals are being done it is the handshakes and card swaps that facilitate them.”

Kat went on to say, “activists are resolved there will be no arms fair in Wales. They will step up the protests if this carries on. Bristol activists kicked this DPRTE arms fair out of Bristol and protesters will kick it out of Cardiff.”

More info on the protests on the 28th of March click here.

To read Shoal Collective’s in-depth investigation into DPRTE.

Bristol Against the Arms Trade has produced an online map of Bristol’s arms companies.

This article was written by Shoal, a new collective of anti-capitalist writers. You can follow them on Twitter @ShoalCollective

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