Arms companies and the government are evading export controls by supplying countries with components rather than complete weapons systems whose sale would be banned, according to a report published today by leading aid and human rights groups.
They accuse the government of double standards by exploiting loopholes enabling it to get round international embargoes and its own human rights guidelines.
There has been an eleven-fold increase in the number of weapons components licensed for export in recent years, says the report by Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the International Action Network on Small Arms.
The loophole has enabled British arms components to be sold to countries including Zimbabwe, Israel, Indonesia, Uganda, Colombia, Nepal, and the Philippines.
A shift in policy was discreetly announced by Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, in 2002. He added new criteria including the "importance of the UK's defence and security relationship with the incorporating country".
His move was prompted by the sale of British components for American F-16 fighter aircraft destined for Israel and used in raids on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.