“We interrupt this breakfast” – arms dealers find coffee and croissants hard to get

July 11, 2013

At the start of Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams says, “It’s 0600, and what does the ‘O’ stand for? Oh my God it’s early.” So, an 0530 start to travel into London was, it must be said, early.

The reason for the early start was a breakfast briefing for arms dealers, hosted by London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and featuring the Commandant General Royal Marines and Commander United Kingdom Amphibious Forces, Major General Edward Grant Martin Davis CBE. Or as we like to call him, “Ed”.

Doubtless Ed and his arms dealing friends at LCCI were looking forward to a leisurely croissant and coffee in Mayfair’s swanky Savile Club. But they were going to find it rather harder to get than they thought. Activists from CAAT and others in Stop the Arms Fair were on their way.

The event promised arms dealers “to help you expand your network of contacts, promote your business … “. It is part of a series of gatherings which let arms dealers meet with each other and their customers, often buyers from repressive regimes. These events set the agenda for the UK’s exorbitant military spending and are where arms deals are born. Let’s remember that it is these deals that lead to the many, many deaths through arms – more than 300,000 a year, one every minute, most innocent victims.

Five people prevented access to the arms dealers' breakfast for 30 mins of an hour-long event
Six people prevented access to the arms dealers’ breakfast for 30 mins of an hour-long event

Having gathered some distance away and made a plan, the campaigners arrived at the Savile Club, a few minutes before registration for the event was due to start. Five of us sat in the main entrance, linking arms and legs, and one of us blocked a secondary entrance.

It took a few moments before anyone noticed we were there, and then the arms dealers began to arrive. They were surprisingly agitated to find their breakfast was on the other side of a group of protesters! Some started arguing, trying to step over us, even kneeing and trying to push past the campaigners. Another, from inside the club came up and kicked one of us, telling us to “get out”. Yet another said that the arms trade could “thin us out”. It shows the violence of this terrible industry and how it behaves when it is challenged.

There were a few comedy moments. We unfurled a banner, which proved to be too big even for us (we would have needed to wear it over our heads), and also thought about singing peace songs, until we realised we didn’t know any. Awkward! So we sat there, telling the arms dealers why they couldn’t have their breakfast, stopping them getting in, as the minutes ticked by. The briefing was only supposed to last an hour, and thirty minutes had passed.

As significant numbers of Police began to arrive, an arrest looking very likely, and given numbness in hands and legs, the activists decided to move on.

Reviewing, we were very happy with how it went. Not only had the hour long event lost half of its time, we heard that General Ed had been “kept away” by his driver, driving round the block, cutting into the arms dealers schmoozing time. It was also clear that many arms dealers had simply decided to go elsewhere, seeking coffee in the local Starbucks.

The bruises from the pummelling by arms dealers will heal, but the deaths and serious injuries caused by their horrific industry cannot be undone. Wherever they gather to do business, they should expect to find us getting in the way. Spread that on your croissants, arms dealers!

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