The Government was accused of “breathtaking laxity” in its arms controls tonight after it emerged that officials authorised the export to Syria of two chemicals capable of being used to make a nerve agent such as sarin a year ago.
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, will on Monday be asked by MPs to explain why a British company was granted export licences for the dual-use substances for six months in 2012 while Syria’s civil war was raging and concern was rife that the regime could use chemical weapons on its own people. The disclosure of the licences for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride, which can both be used as precursor chemicals in the manufacture of nerve gas, came as the US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States had evidence that sarin gas was used in last month’s atrocity in Damascus.
Mr Kerry announced that traces of the nerve agent, found in hair and blood samples taken from victims of the attack in the Syrian capital which claimed more than 1,400 lives, were part of a case being built by the Obama administration for military intervention.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills insisted that although the licences were granted to an unnamed UK chemical company in January 2012, the substances were not sent to Syria before the permits were eventually revoked last July in response to tightened European Union sanctions.
In a previously unpublicised letter to MPs last year, Mr Cable acknowledged that his officials had authorised the export of an unspecified quantity of the chemicals in the knowledge that they were listed on an international schedule of chemical weapon precursors.