In May 2003, the UK Government changed the rules on the supply of military kit, and many operators and companies now became arms brokers. These new laws were officially known as the ‘Trade controls’ or more commonly ‘Trafficking and brokering’.
Until that time to export (including in passenger baggage) military equipment from the UK required an Export licence from the then Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), but this created a supposed loophole whereby UK persons could move military equipment overseas without any oversight from the British government; the exception to this was arranging the supply of military equipment to nations subject to an arms embargo (UN, EU, OSCE) which was already restricted.
The new Trade controls created a requirement for British persons/companies and/or people based in the UK to obtain a DTI Trade licence if they wanted to arrange the transfer of Military equipment from one third country to another (never touching the UK).
So what does the UK government classify as military equipment? Well, its anything ~specially designed for or adapted for military use~.
The UK publishes its Military list (ML) which provides a definitive schedule of those items which require both export and TRADE licences; it includes small arms and light weapons, ammunition, sights, armoured vehicles inc. 4x4s , riot control equipment including CS gas, explosives , ships/vessels , aircraft , jamming equipment, Comms , Demolition, body armour/plates/helmets, training simulators, Night vision, stun guns, shackles and a plethora of other equipment and technologies
As time went on the controls evolved and the concept of extraterritoriality extended to the Trade controls i.e. the law can apply to Brits wherever they are.
Extraterritoriality – Many UK laws apply to UK persons wherever they are based, there are a wide variety of people who are considered ‘UK Persons’ but if you are a UK passport holder further definition is not required.
There is sometime a presumption that out of sight is out of mind; sadly, this is not true, the UK and its friends have, as you know, a wide reach. Individuals breaching the Trade controls have landed at UK airports only to find HMRC waiting to arrest them (the US does very much the same) and that trip home for Christmas suddenly extends for some time.
The penalty for breaching the Trade controls is up to 10 years imprisonment, though the maximum given to date is nine. In addition, there is the Proceeds of Crime Act with some devastating effects!
As UK person in effect if you are involved in activity (includes matching up contacts for a fee) which may result in ML goods moving between two third countries, you come within the Trade controls.
There are different requirements placed on you depending on: –
1/ the nature of the goods being supplied – as stated they must be on the UK military list
2/ The end user of the goods e.g. are they subject to any restriction/embargo?
3/ the part you played, as some subsections of the Trade controls exclude Financial and transportation services.
So, by way of example
- Whilst providing training overseas, you supplied military list equipment to your trainers/trainees
- Supplying your Security or PMC personnel with military list equipment.
- Bomb disposal suits and CIED equipment to trainers/practitioners not exported directly from the UK
- arranging or negotiating contracts
- arranging intra company transfers
- introducing third parties for an ‘arms’ deal for a fee.
- a Banker providing a Letter of Credit for a transfer
- Onboard Maritime security personnel, though there is a special licence covering this.
- if a UK airline/shipping line, shipped military goods to a location subject to a UK embargo or transhipped small arms/light weapons through the UK
So, if I doubt check before you sign, as the Trade controls cover arranging; the goods don’t ever need to move for you to breach. You must have a DIT Trade licence in place before you agree the transaction.
If you doubt there is jail time in this, some examples are given on our website
Are you an accidental arms dealer?
By: Martin Drew
Until May 2016, Martin was a Higher Investigation Officer in HMRC’s Counter Proliferation Investigation unit, leading on the enforcement of the UK’s legislation relating to the trade in military goods. Though now working on the European Union’s and United Nation’s panels of experts providing guidance to nations involved in implementing the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. He works all over the world and specialises in providing advice to companies on UK controls.