Answers will be demanded today after it was revealed that officials authorised the export of chemicals that can be used to make a nerve agent, such as sarin, to Syria a year ago, while the country’s civil war was raging and the threat of chemical weapons was omnipresent.

MPs will today quiz Business Secretary, Vince Cable, over what has been called a “breathtaking laxity” in the Government’s arms control.

The export licences were granted to a British company for two dual-use substances, potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride, for six months in 2012, according to Scotland’s Sunday Mail. This information was disclosed as US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US had evidence that sarin gas was used to kill more than 1,400 people in Damascus last month.  

Used to add weight to the Obama administration for military intervention in Syria, Kerry said that traces of the nerve agent was found in hair and blood samples of the victims of the attack in the Syrian capital, urging a sceptical Congress to approve a military strike.

The unnamed UK chemical company had said it needed the chemicals for manufacture of metal window frames and shower enclosures. A letter from Cable to MPs has been revealed, admitting to the authorisation of the export for “use in industrial processes”, despite knowledge that the substances were listed on an international schedule of chemical weapon precursors.

However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are insisting that the chemicals never reached Syria. Despite the licenses being granted to the unnamed UK company in January 2012, the substances remained in the UK. The export deal was then outlawed by the EU on June 17 2012, but the licences were not revoked until July 30.

Labour MP Thomas Docherty, a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee who will today be demanding to know why the licenses were granted, said, “This would seem to be a case of breath-taking laxity – the Government has had a very lucky escape indeed that these chemicals were not sent to Syria.

“What was Mr Cable’s department doing authorising the sale of chemicals which by their own admission had a dual use as precursors for chemical weapons at a time when the Syria’s war was long under way?”

At the time, the licence was granted after Department for Business officials judged if “there was a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression or be diverted for such an end.” Cable added, “The licences were granted because at the time there were no grounds for refusal.”

Cable’s department last night insisted it was satisfied that the export licence was correctly granted. A spokesman said: “The UK Government operates one of the most rigorous arms export control regimes in the world.

“The exporter and recipient company demonstrated that the chemicals were for a legitimate civilian end-use – which was for metal finishing of aluminium profiles used in making aluminium showers and aluminium window frames.”

It is believed that chemical weapons including sarin have been used in the Syrian conflict on 14 occasions since 2012 and that the Syrian regime uses front companies to divert dual-use materials imported for industrial purposes into its weapons programmes.

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