'Disturbing’: Arms firms dine at Tower of London days after ‘sea of poppies’ closed
The event, co-sponsored by Lockheed Martin – the world’s biggest defense firm – was billed as an “acclaimed and influential … chance to make new business connections” for senior defense manufacturers.
The guest of honor at the £240-per-head event was Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton.
A further 200 industry representatives attended the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) dinner. The event went unpublicized owing to fears that the location may trigger political protests and gather unwanted attention.
Senior Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials and foreign defense attaches were also present at the Tower of London on November 25.
In attempts to conceal the venue of the exclusive party, corporate guests were told they would be informed of the location “upon registration.”
The Tower of London hosted the LCCI Defence and Security dinner last year, where ex-GCHQ boss Sir Iain Lobban addressed guests. To take a whole table at such dinners, guests would have to fork out £3,000.
The Tower is managed by the Historic Royal Palaces group (HRP), an independent charity that does not receive public money, relying on donations and events to raise capital.
Following the event last year, the HRP group said they would consider drawing up an ethical policy on corporate events, but any concrete position has yet to be made public.
The HRP was slated on Wednesday, with campaigners claiming it was disrespectful to host a dinner promoting the sale of weaponry at a venue that had so recently hosted commemorations of the war dead.
Some 888,246 British and Commonwealth servicemen, who died in the First World War, were honored with a sea of ceramic poppies 'planted' in the grounds of the Tower.
“On Remembrance Day, the Tower of London was a focus for remembering the horrendous loss of life in the First World War,” said Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade.
“It is disturbing that just weeks later it can play host to the very arms companies, which profit from perpetuating war and conflict today. It is crassly insensitive and in extremely bad taste that this historic monument would do this so soon after providing such a high-profile focal point for Remembrance Day.”
The evening comprised a three-course meal and a drinks reception in the historic White Tower, and was billed as an exclusive networking event for senior arms traders and officials.
Organizers include representatives from British defense group BAE Systems, and French companies Thales and Lockheed Martin.
The LCCI responded to criticism in a statement, claiming the venues were chosen “based on considerations including cost, availability, their relevance to the sector and on feedback from our members.”
Charity HRP concluded the decision to host an event with the LCCI “is consistent with their policy” to “work with clients who appropriately reflect the status and dignity of the palaces.”