Committees on Arms ExportsLetter to Baroness Ashton, High Representative of the European Union, European Commission from Mark Prisk MP, Minister of State for Business and Enterprise, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills


I am writing to inform you of the UK’s intention to introduce a control on the export of pancuronium bromide, potassium chloride and sodium pentobarbital to the US. This will complement our existing control on sodium thiopental. The UK Government calls on the Commission to propose an amendment to the Export of Torture Goods Regulation to apply this control on an EU basis.

As you may know, the UK introduced a control on the export of sodium thiopental to the US in November last year. This followed the revelation that correctional authorities in the US had been sourcing this drug from the UK to overcome a shortage in the US.

The UK Government took the view, consistently with our stated policy of opposition to the death penalty, that we wished to prevent this trade. We also established that this measure would not hamper legitimate trade in sodium thiopental for medical purposes between the UK and the US: it was clear that there was none, nor any prospect of any. We took a deliberate decision to restrict the scope of this control only to exports to the US: sodium thiopental continues to be used as an anaesthetic in medical procedures in a number of developing countries, so we did not wish to disrupt the supply of this essential medicine by placing any kind of restriction on exports from the UK.

We have now, at the request of the campaigning group Reprieve, considered the case for extending this export control to cover the other drugs used in the US lethal injection process. Most US states that carry out lethal injection use a three drug cocktail consisting of sodium thiopental, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride. Furthermore, the state of Oklahoma has carried out one execution using the veterinary anaesthetic sodium pentobarbital, and we understand that more states are considering changing their execution protocols to allow the use of this drug as an alternative to sodium thiopental.

Following a consultation with interested UK parties, we have again determined that a control on the export of these drugs to the US would not hamper legitimate medical trade. I have therefore decided to extend our control to cover these three additional drugs, and will shortly be laying the necessary Order before Parliament.

The UK Government has felt obliged to act at national level because of the urgency of the situation. However, we recognise the desirability of action at EU level to ensure that the playing field is level and that the controls imposed by individual Member States cannot be circumvented by the movement of these drugs within the Single Market. Our preferred solution would be for an EU-wide control on the export of these drugs to the US (and indeed to any other country that practises lethal injection) to be incorporated into Regulation 1236/2005 (the “Torture Goods Regulation”).

My officials stand ready to discuss this with yours. We would also welcome the opportunity to explore the possibility of a horizontal “end use control” on the export of goods for the purpose of torture or capital punishment.

12 April 2011

Prepared 12th July 2012