UK suspends arms sales to Turkey for items that might be used in Syria

The UK has suspended new sales of arms to Turkey for items that might be used in the country’s military offensive in Syria.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs on Tuesday: “The UK government takes its arm export control responsibilities very seriously and in this case, of course, we will keep our defence exports to Turkey under very careful and continual review.

“No further export licences to Turkey for items that might be used in military operations in Syria will be granted while we conduct that review.”

Turkey’s military incursion in Syria entered its seventh day on Tuesday, with reports of heavy bombardment of Syrian Kurdish positions near a town in northeast Syria.

Turkey’s operation aims to remove Syrian Kurdish forces – which Ankara regards as terrorists and links to a decades-old insurgency in the country – from its border.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pledged to continue with Turkey’s military operations, despite international condemnation.

Mr Raab told the House of Commons: “With close partners, we must at times be candid and clear.

“This is not the action we expected from an ally. It is reckless, it is counter-productive.”

The foreign secretary added Turkey’s offensive “plays straight into the hands of Russia” and the Syrian regime, led by Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Raab also revealed the “fluid situation” in Syria means the government will have to keep “under review” whether British nationals who fought with Islamic State should face justice in the region or the UK.

“We don’t want to see foreign fighters return to the UK,” he said.

“We think the right course is for them to face justice, if that’s possible and practical, in the region.

“But of course… given the fluid situation we’re going to have to keep all of this under review.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked Mr Erdogan to end the fighting in a telephone call at the weekend.

But Mr Erogan has since written in the Wall Street Journal: “The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability.

“The EU – and the world – should support what Turkey is trying to do.”

NATO general secretary Jens Stoltenberg, speaking after a meeting with Mr Johnson in 10 Downing Street, said he was “deeply concerned about the consequences” of Turkey’s offensive.

“Both when it comes to the fight against Daesh [Islamic State], human suffering, and stability in the wider region,” he said.

Mr Stoltenberg added the suspension of arms sales to EU nations by Turkey “reflects that many NATO allies are very critical and are condemning the military operation in northern Syria”.

Campaigners have estimated the UK has licensed £1.1bn worth of arms to Turkey since Mr Erdogan became the country’s president in 2014.

This includes arms exports licences for aircraft, drones, tanks and missiles.

Andrew Smith, of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, claimed the government had been “shamed” into curbing arms sales to Turkey on Tuesday.

He said: “The truth is that it should never have been arming and supporting President Erdogan and his authoritarian regime in the first place.

“This change cannot only be limited future arms sales, it must also affect the hundreds of millions of pounds worth of arms that have been licensed over recent years. As long as those licences are still valid then those arms can be used.

“This should also mark a turning point in UK foreign policy in Turkey.”

Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s head of policy and government affairs, said: “This is the right decision by the foreign secretary, and one that hasn’t come a moment too soon.

“However, the government must be clear that this will also apply to all existing licences.

“The UK has a responsibility to minimise the risk of UK weaponry contributing to violations of international humanitarian law.

“What the UK has done in days over Turkey, it should have done years ago over Saudi Arabia given the carnage the Saudi-led coalition has caused in Yemen.

“Today’s move over Turkey is welcome, but it’s a reminder of how ramshackle and inconsistent the UK’s arms control system actually is.”