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Stop DSEI protesters blocking the road in front of the ExCel centre. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

Stop DSEI protesters blocking the road in front of the ExCel centre. Photo: Shabbir Lakha

The world's worst arms dealers will be gathering to exhibit their instruments of death at London's ExCel Centre once again, writes Lucy Nichols

This month, the ExCel Centre in East London will be hosting one of the world’s largest arms fairs, the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) fair. DSEI, now in its 20th year, pays a visit to Newham every two years. The 2017 fair saw over 1,500 exhibitingcompanies show off their products to a total audience of 35,008 people from 110 countries. These countries include the likes of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the UAE (one of the sponsors of this years event) - all are known human rights abusers, and some of the UKs biggest buyers of arms. Also worth noting, is that Saudi Arabia have been invited to Britain’s biggest arms fair despite the Court of Appeal ruling British weapons sales to the Kingdom illegal, since these weapons have been used to kill civilians in Yemen. 

For just a few hundred pounds, exhibitors can gain access to ‘governments, national armed forces, industry thought leaders and the global defence & security supply chain on an unrivalled scale’. Exhibitors at this year’s fair include the heavyweights of the arms industry; BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Gruman and Thales - between them responsible for the destruction of Yemen, the arming of Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and the planes that launch Trident missiles. 

As well as a plethora of arms companies, DSEI 2019 will host international militaries and various universitiesCranfield University and the University of Lincoln from Britain, but also institutions from Australia and North America will be ‘promoting [their] defence and security, aerospace, manufacturing and management offerings’ - a clear indication of the vice-like hold the Military Industrial Complex has on British and international universities.

The company behind the event, Clarion, boasts that the fair will contribute £23m to London’s economy through the accommodation of the 35,000 attendees alone. Despite this, it is cruelly ironic that the UK arms industry, worth £35 billion, is coming to one of the poorest boroughs in London in order to make more money. 

Whether being pushed out of their homes by rising rents or suffering from increased violent crime, the people of Newham have been hit hard by a combination of austerity and gentrification. Despite an enormous amount of regeneration during the 2012 Olympics, a shocking 37% of the borough live in poverty, and 1 in 24 are homeless - this is the highest rate of homelessness in England. The people of Newham - apart from those who will make £7.50 an hour serving the attendees coffee - will gain nothing from the arms fair but a venue to clean. It is clear that Newham doesn’t want an arms fair; mass protests have taken place outside every DSEI fair since the first in 2001. This year will be no exception, with Mayor Roxanna Fiaz and Newham council lending their support to a full week of protests outside the ExCel.

Still, in September two cabinet ministers, Ben Wallace and Liz Truss, will give keynote speeches to thousands of military personnel from all over the world. With the backdrop of a looming war in Iran, and the news that Boris Johnson supports sending troops to Yemen, the government has a lot to gain from this years DSEI, either through selling arms to any regime that will have them, or buying them so they can send more warships to the Gulf of Oman.

At the 2019 DSEI fair, our government will make millions of pounds endangering countless lives, and ending countless more. In the same borough, but in a totally different world, our government disregards the lives of countless Londoners, just like it did with Jason Lennon and all the young men who have died as a result of the state’s indifference to working class people.

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