Political Influence

Arms companies have long enjoyed a close relationship with the Government, giving them immense influence over government decision-making. This influence is a key reason why arms companies have enjoyed disproportionate financial and political support from successive UK governments.

There are many opportunities for arms companies to gain access to and influence the Government, including employing former government ministers and civil servants, using lobbying companies, and utilising a web of high-level advisory bodies and their day-to-day involvement with the MoD and UK Trade & Investment.

The revolving door

Sherard Cowper-Coles, former diplomat
Former British Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles, who moved to BAE Systems in February 2011 (Image credit)

The revolving door is a key feature of the relationship between the Government and military industry.

Among many striking examples is that of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. As Britain's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia he pressured the Serious Fraud Office to drop its investigation into BAE-Saudi arms deals. On leaving the Foreign Office he was given a job with... BAE Systems.

However, it goes far deeper than the choices of a group of individuals. It is systemic. Research by The Guardian (15.10.2012) found that senior military officers and MoD officials had received approval for 3,572 jobs in arms companies since 1996.

There is a body that is supposed to regulate the revolving door: the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA). However, it merely serves to legitimise the arrangement. In July 2012 the parliamentary Public Administration Select Committee said that ACOBA "lacks adequate powers and resources; does not have appropriate membership for its function; and should be abolished." (25.7.2012)

High-level advisory bodies

The arms industry is heavily represented on a web of high-level government advisory bodies, raising urgent questions about accountability and favourable access.

In one of these bodies, the Defence Suppliers' Forum, Chief Executives of major international arms companies have regular access to the highest reaches of the MoD, including the Defence Secretary and two other ministers.

UK Trade & Investment

The arms industry has its own sales section within government, staffed by civil servants and the miliary. The UKTI Defence & Security Organisation (UKTI DSO) has 163 staff including 38 armed forces personnel who demonstrate equipment. This is completely out of proportion to UKTI's support for other industrial sectors.

Page updated 25 June 2014
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