UK arms sales to repressive regimes increased by £1bn last year compared with 2018.
The increase, of more than 300%, has been condemned by arms control campaigners, who accuse the government of putting profits before human rights.
An analysis of figures for arms sales, just released by the government, reveals that in 2019 the UK sold £1.3bn worth of weapons to 26 of the 48 countries that are classed as “not free” by Freedom House, the US government-funded pro-democracy institution. This was compared with just £310m in 2018.
Business is brisk among those countries which the Foreign Office itself identifies as having poor human rights records.
In 2018, the UK sold £173m worth of arms to states on the Foreign Office list of “human rights priority countries” – nations identified as having human rights issues.
But last year this increased to £849m, an increase of 390%.
Andrew Smith, of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said: “The UK government is always telling us how robust its arms export controls supposedly are, but these figures make clear that nothing could be further from the truth. The UK arms industry is dominated by human rights abusers, despots and dictatorships.
“The figures may be good for the arms dealers, but these weapons could be used in atrocities and abuses for years to come.”
Most of the growth came from the Middle East: 2019 was a lucrative year in terms of licences to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and UAE.
The increase could have been significantly larger. A court ruling freezing arms sales to Saudi Arabia had a considerable impact on UK exports to the kingdom in the second half of last year.
And the figures do not include open licences which allow the export of an unlimited number of consignments over a fixed period, typically between three and five years.
“These sales are only possible because of the complicity of the UK government, which has consistently put arms company profits ahead of human rights,” Smith said.
“UK-made fighter jets and bombs are doing terrible damage in Yemen. The war has killed tens of thousands of people and depleted the healthcare system in a time of crisis.”
A government spokesman said: “The UK assesses all export licence applications on a case-by-case basis in line with our strict licensing criteria.
“We will not issue export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria, including where we assess there is a clear risk that equipment might be used for internal repression.”