Greens react to decommissioning of Syrian Chemical Weapons in Ellesmere Port

The news that Syrian chemical weapons are going to be decommissioned by Veolia at Ellesmere Port will concern many local people. These weapons do have to be decommissioned and this has to be done safely, but there is a much bigger lesson for us to learn.

The departing Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has admitted that between 1983 and 1986 Britain exported chemicals to Syria that were likely to have then been turned into Sarin gas, a potent chemical weapon. [1] As recently as 2012, the coalition government of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, approved export licences for potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride to the Syrian government, both of which can be used to manufacture chemical weapons, despite the country already having descended into civil war. [2]

The last Labour government had promised an ethical foreign policy, but a report by Saferworld in 2007 showed that arms exports continued to 19 out of 20 states who were a “cause for concern”, including China, Colombia, Israel and Saudi Arabia. [3] Only the Green Party has consistently made the case that with 50,000 jobs dependent on arms exports in the UK, far more jobs could be created elsewhere in more ethical areas of the economy with the same investment.

So we need to tackle the bigger issues of arms and chemical exports so that we don’t in future have to deal with this situation. Right now on Merseyside, people need reassurance from the company about how the decommissioning will take place. We have written to Veolia to ask them to make those public assurances, share as much information as they can about the process in the interests of transparency, and build confidence that local people should expect no health issues to arise from this process.

To tackle these concerns, Leader of the Opposition on Liverpool City Council John Coyne contacted Veolia, and received the following correspondence from Martin Curtois, the Group Communications Manager within 24 hours:

“I can confirm that Veolia will be destroying 194t of Syrian chemicals, consisting of both ‘B’ precursors and hydrochloric acid at Ellesmere Port under our existing Ministry of Defence contract for treating waste arising from its operations.

“All the materials which will be handled are similar to materials routinely treated at the plant and will be destroyed in line with our strict environmental permit.”

For more information, view the attached press release and letter from Veolia below.

Press Release

Letter of reply to Cllr Coyne