High-profile politicians, actors and musicians will be joining local people from Liverpool to protest against a conference on electronic warfare due to take place in the city later this year, LiverpoolWorld has learned.
Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, actor Maxine Peake who starred alongside Eddie Redmayne in the Theory of Everything, comedian and activist Alexei Sayle and rapper Lowkey are set to be among a series of speakers at a planned protest on 11 September.
What is the arms conference?
Representatives from serving military personnel and government decision-makers are expected at the event, which will include electromagnetic warfare experts and the latest technological warfare developments.
There was a big protest in the city in June this year and a petition against the arms fair has already received over 5,500 signatures.
The event was due to take place in Liverpool in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.
More than 70 city councillors are believed to have signed a statement in opposition to the event.
Can it be stopped?
Mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, expressed in a statement last week her opposition to the conference.
She stated: “I am appalled that this event is being held in Liverpool – in one of our buildings. Many of you have been in touch with me to outline, in no uncertain terms, your views. I am a pacifist and I have been consistently clear that I am in absolute agreement with you.”
Despite being “appalled” about the conference, Mayor Anderson wrote that the council was powerless to stop it going ahead.
She wrote: “The inescapable fact is that it is lawful and we have no public powers to stop it. In the same way, we are powerless to stop other people who are not welcome in our city like the far right, from being in our city, unless they break the law.
“I have sought extensive soundings from our legal team, but based on their expert advice, regrettably there is nothing that I as Mayor, or the council, can do to prevent this event from taking place.
“The bottom line is that the council has no power to interfere with bookings taken by ACC Liverpool, and has no member representatives on its board.”
It was reported in The Independent this week that Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has written to organisers of a separate arms fair due to take place in London’s Docklands next month, denouncing the event and asking them to reconsider holding it in the capital.
Why the protests are happening
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is one of the national organisations involved in the protest.
PSC director Ben Jamal told LiverpoolWorld: “We believe some of companies at the arms fair will be marketing products as having been “battle tested” during warfare and there will be a whole range of different companies whose weapons have been used to commit human rights abuses.
“There is a huge body of local opposition building and we think the mayor and council could be doing a lot more to prevent this from happening.
“We are expecting Jeremy Corbyn, Maxine Peake, Alexei Sayle and Lowkey to be among the speakers.”
Corbyn, Sayle and Lowkey are all PSC patrons.
Chair of the Stop The Liverpool Arms Fair campaign, Lawrence Brown, said: “We are absolutely disgusted that such an event could take place in a city council owned building in a place as cosmopolitan as Liverpool.
“We have a broad group including local people, trade unions, and faith groups who are part of this protest.
“People who have been directly affected by arms and warfare will also be speaking at the event.”
He added that the conference was due to take place in Seville, Spain, in May this year but was cancelled due to strong local campaigning and relocated back to Liverpool.
A spokesperson for AOC Europe said: “AOC Europe will connect organisations and individuals from government, defence, industry and academia to promote the exchange of information and review the latest advances in electromagnetic and information-related fields.
“AOC Europe provides an opportunity for attendees to exchange ideas, develop relationships, and showcase a range of high tech electronics – a field in which the UK is an acknowledged world leader.
“UK and international laws determine who can come to the event, and all of our exhibitors and visitors are vetted and undergo the strictest scrutiny before being allowed access to the events. We respect the right to lawful protest and demonstration.”
A spokesperson for Exhibition Centre Liverpool said: “Liverpool is a historically important city within the defence sector, with over £2 billion of Ministry of Defence budget currently spent in the region, supporting 12,500 jobs. As well as Liverpool’s historical links to the defence sector, related growth areas including advance manufacturing, aerospace and maritime remain core sectors for the city region economy today.
“Liverpool hosts a range of public, private and trade events every year, attracting visitors from across the world and boosting the local economy. The ACC Liverpool Group, operators of Exhibition Centre Liverpool, exists to create economic benefit for the city of Liverpool.
“Over the last decade, national and international events across our campus have led to almost £2 billion of economic impact and now more than ever, during this unprecedented time, we represent one of the most important routes to attracting visitors back to the city to help reinvigorate Liverpool’s visitor economy.”