People stand in a line holding a long banner reading "Stop Arming Saudi"

From Bristol to Yemen: protesting the global arms trade

Bristol’s role in the global arms trade was laid bare over the weekend as peace groups conducted a tour of the offices of major defence companies. 

The “Tour of Shame”, as it was called, organised by XR Peace Bristol and Bristol Against Arms Trade, visited six arms companies in north Bristol: Thales and Leonardo in Stoke Gifford, BAE Systems and MBDA in Filton, Airbus on Gloucester Road North, and Rolls-Royce in Patchway.

Dr Rowland Dye, former nuclear scientist and member of XR Peace Bristol, said: ‘People are proud that Bristol has stood on the right side of history facing up to the awful legacy of slavery. 

‘But they will be shocked to know that just up the road in North Bristol are arms companies making a fortune exporting to conflict zones and unleashing suffering on an unimaginable scale. 

‘Not only is this unspeakably immoral but fuelling more wars when our planet is facing run-away climate-change is total madness – this must stop now.’

The Tour of Shame marked Yemen National Day of Action, on December 3, a UK-wide day of action led by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). The day saw similar protests in over a dozen locations across the country to demand an end to UK complicity in the war in Yemen.

Demonstrators took with them a giant peace logo and a sculpture promoting “arms to renewables”. 

Protesters hold a long banner outside an office building. Behind them is a large, colourful peace logo.
Campaigners outside the offices of Thales in Stoke Gifford.

War has been raging in Yemen for almost 8 years as a Saudi-led, UK- and US-backed coalition fights to restore the government ousted by Houthi rebels in 2014. 

The UN estimates that the war has killed 377,000 people, 70% of whom are children. The war has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, although news about it is largely absent from Western media. 

According to CAAT, the UK is one of Saudi Arabia’s leading arms suppliers. The published value of UK arms licensed for export to the Saudi-led coalition since the country’s involvement in Yemen began in March 2015 is £8.6 billion, although CAAT suspects the true value to be closer to £23 billion.

Included in that figure is the sale of Typhoon fighter jets, the engines for which are made at Rolls-Royce here in Bristol and assembled by BAE systems. 

Amber Rose-Dewey, of Bristol Against the Arms Trade (BAAT), said: ‘People have been taking to the streets to illuminate what is often unspoken and unknown – that war starts on our doorstep, that arms companies fuelling the war on Yemen, and elsewhere, are here in our communities, and that the UK government is allowing these companies to make billions from arms sales despite the devastating human cost.’

Read more: Peace gathering calls on council to aback nuclear weapons ban

In January, the High Court will hear a challenge brought by CAAT against the UK government. CAAT will argue that the government is breaching its own rules by licensing arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite the risk that those arms may be used in violation of international law. 

Saturday’s action was supported by members of XR Bristol, Quakers, Christian Climate Action, Bristol CND, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Kurdish Solidarity Campaign.

On December 1, the Bristol’s offices of Boeing were visited by protesters following the discovery of bomb fragments bearing the company’s name found following Turkish air strikes on Kurdish territory in Northern Syria. 

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