Premier defends UK firms’ rights to sell arms to Gulf states

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Arms sales to Middle East allies are “completely legitimate and right”, David Cameron said as he faced criticism from human rights campaigners over a trade and diplomacy mission to Gulf states.

The Prime Minister flew into Dubai to urge the United Arab Emirates to buy 60 BAE Typhoon jets rather than their French rival aircraft in part of a wide-ranging commercial drive to secure the UK a larger slice of the lucrative deals to be had with the oil-rich states.

He will continue his tour in Saudi Arabia today and was accused by Amnesty International of continuing a “deeply-disturbing trade-off” between trade and strategic interests and the promotion of rights and democratic reform.

But the premier insisted he would address human rights issues in talks with the autocratic regimes’ rulers and reaffirmed his support for the Arab Spring movements which have toppled governments in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

There is disquiet among the Gulf states about that support and a perceived intrusion into their affairs which is reported to have led to some British firms already being frozen out of contracts, leaving Mr Cameron with a delicate balancing act.

Britain hopes to sell 100 Typhoons in the region over the next year, including to the Saudis who are considering increasing their complement of the fighter aircraft – though French president Francois Hollande visited the country yesterday to push his own country’s alternative.

Mr Cameron insisted there were no “no go areas” in his talks with the leaders and that human rights were on the agenda but also said it was right to show “respect and friendship to a very to old ally and partner”. They also had a right to self defence, he said in a defence of the arms sales over which Britain had “one of the strictest regimes anywhere in the world”.

And with 300,000 UK jobs in the industry “that sort of business is completely legitimate and right.”