A coalition of local groups will march against AOC Europe on Saturday 11 September

No city should profit from blood money and human rights violations. Liverpool has always sought justice and human rights at home and abroad - so why are we hosting an electronic warfare conference at one of our flagship venues?

We want the biggest peaceful event that says, not in our name and not in our city.

Local campaigners declared a victory in 2020 when “Electronic Warfare Europe” at Liverpool’s ACC Exhibition Centre was cancelled. But the win was short-lived and it now seems that the event was only actually postponed.

Now, a coalition of Merseyside organisations have joined forces to protest against the new event which is scheduled to take place at the ACC from 12 - 13 October.

Liverpool Against The Arms Fair Acc Aoc Europe Demonstration 11 September
Liverpool Against the Arms Fair will protest again in September

What is AOC Europe?

AOC Europe 2021 (Association of Old Crows) says it’s an organisation for individuals who have common interests in electronic warfare. Delegates at the conference will "have the opportunity to meet experts from government, defence, industry and academia."

Exhibitors listed to appear at the event in October include Elbit Systems. Political movement, Palestine Action, says that Elbit is Israel’s largest privately-owned arms company and “making a killing from Israel’s attacks on Palestinian people.” 

Campaigners have called on Liverpool City Council to ban the electronic warfare event from happening at the ACC Exhibition Centre, but the council says it has no power to do anything. In July, Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson and other Liverpool councillors signed a statement objecting to AOC Europe 2021.

Aoc Europe Acc Liverpool October 2021
The official flyer for AOC Europe 2021

Council opposition

“I have made it clear that I am opposed to the Electronic Warfare Conference that is being hosted by the ACC Exhibition Centre in October,” Mayor Joanne said in the official statement published on Liverpool Express.

“I know that many of us feel it is at odds with the socialist and peaceful values held by the council and that it raises moral and ethical questions. 

“However, as a council we are very limited in what we can do...I have explored every possible legal option but sadly, while we may want to do more, the position is that lawfully we can’t."

If the council doesn't want the event in our city, why is it happening? Rewind to 2008 when the ACC arena and convention centre was built for the European Capital of Culture.

Acc Exhibition And Convention Centre Liverpool
ACC Liverpool, King's Dock

Economic impact

Owned by Liverpool City Council, the ACC Liverpool Group Ltd was set up as a management company to run it on the council's behalf. Although the council does own it formally, they say that they don’t have control over its decisions.

A spokesperson for Exhibition Centre Liverpool said; “It (AOC Europe) is an established global conference and exhibition which has taken place for the last 25 years across other major European cities. 

“Liverpool is a historically important city within the defence sector, with over £2bn of MOD budget currently spent in the region, supporting 12,500 jobs.

“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 £2bn 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.”

Councillors For Peace Vigil Acc Aoc Arms Fair Liverpool Alan Gibbons
Councillors for Peace at a vigil against the arms fair Photo: Alan Gibbons

Drone warfare

Campaigner and Labour councillor Alan Gibbons says that if the event does go ahead there is a risk that the city of Liverpool will be seen to be facilitating the international weapons trade. 

“The electronic arms fair is an exhibition at which various military experts, and companies involved in things like drone warfare, do presentations,” says Alan. 

“As far as we're concerned they’re implicated in the provision of arms and technologies to some of the most controversial and dangerous conflicts in the world. And they do these exhibitions all over the world.

“I think universally, people want it cancelled; councillors, campaigners, many members of the public. People do not want this event in our city, simple as.

Liverpool Against The Arms Fair Acc Aoc Europe Demonstration 11 September Grim Reaper
Longstanding campaigners, Chris Bernard and Pauline Roy Photo: Alan Gibbons

City of peace

“Even when people are not directly technically involved, to be hosting an arms fair, to be facilitating weaponry in the circumstances when liberal intervention in Afghanistan has been shown to be bankrupt, would really be shocking.

“People want to see the resolution of these conflicts and don't want to see Liverpool in any way contributing to an intensification of them. It’s very much seen as a human rights city, a city of peace. John Lennon's Imagine gives us the title of the airport.

“I don't think you can calculate in financial terms, what kind of impact it could have on the city. You can have a long term reputational damage and ultimately it could have a long term financial damage, because the city is heavily dependent upon tourism, and people from all over the world come here.

Campaign of pressure

“What needs to happen is there's got to be a massive campaign of pressure on the ACC directors. They can cancel it. Now, it may incur penalties, but this is a moral issue isn't it?"

Liverpool Against the Arms Fair, a local coalition of campaigners opposing AOC Europe, has called for a demonstration against the event on 11 September to pile on public pressure. 

The march will assemble at 11.30am at Princes Park, to the Metropolitan Cathedral (12.30pm) and then into the city.

“Bring your family, bring your placards,” says Alan. “We want the biggest peaceful event that puts pressure on the ACC Liverpool to say, not in our name and not in our city.”

For the latest updates, follow Liverpool Against the Arms Fair on Twitter.

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