CABLE came under further fire when it was revealed that officers from the Syrian army had trained in Britain – at taxpayers’ expense.
VINCE CABLE was yesterday challenged to come clean about Britain’s role in selling nerve gas chemicals to Syria.
The Business Secretary was on the rack over his department’s decision to grant export licences for the deadly material.
And there was further outrage when it was revealed that officers from the Syrian army had trained in Britain – at taxpayers’ expense.
Labour MP David Winnick asked the Commons: “Is there any murderous regime anywhere that we are not willing to do business with?”
Cable came under fire after our sister paper the Sunday Mail exposed how his department had granted licences to a British firm to export chemicals capable of making nerve gas to Syria.
Thomas Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, wrote to Cable demanding urgent answers over the licences.
The MP, who is a member of the Commons’ committee on arms export controls, wants to know who were allowed to sell the chemicals to Syria and what other licences for the export of dangerous materials to Bashar Assad’s brutal regime have been granted.
Export licences for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride were granted to a British firm in January last year – 10 months after the bloody civil war in Syria began.
The licences specified that the chemicals should be used in industrial processes.
But fluoride is a key element in the production of chemical weapons such as sarin – thought to be the gas used in the attack on a Damascus suburb which killed nearly 1500 people 10 days ago.
The licences were revoked last June, when the European Union imposed tough sanctions on
Yesterday, France continued to push for military action against Assad, saying the gas attack “could not have been ordered and carried out by anyone but the Syrian government”.
But in a day of confusion in Britain about the crisis, David Cameron ruled out another vote on military action following his humiliating defeat in the Commons last week.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, however, opened the door to possible air strikes “if the circumstances changed significantly”.
And Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: “You can never say never.”
Many Tories, including former party leader Michael Howard and ex-foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind believe the Prime Minister may have been too hasty in ruling out military action following the Commons defeat.
Labour leader Ed Miliband was also forced to knock down suggestions that his party were changing their position on Syria after senior MPs went public with their misgivings about last week’s vote.
Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy suggested Labour had not ruled out backing air strikes in the future.
But a senior Labour source said Miliband didn’t want a vote re-run.
As the debate over intervention continued and the row about export licences escalated, it was revealed that at least five officers from Assad’s military were accepted on Ministry of Defence training courses.
The Con-Dems appeared to be caught on the hop about that – but they insisted they had done nothing wrong about the chemical export licences.
A spokesman for Cable’s business department claimed the UK Government operate one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world and have been at the forefront of implementing an international sanctions regime on Syria.
The official said: “In January 2012, we issued licenses for sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride.
“The exporter and recipient company demonstrated that the chemicals were for a legitimate civilian end use – which was for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames.
“The licences were revoked following a revision to the sanctions regime which came into force on June 17, 2012 and the chemicals were not exported to Syria.
“This shows that the system works and reflects changes made by this Government to ensure that the system of export controls is robust, responsive and effective in upholding the highest international standards.”
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