Zimbabwe

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 2:54 pm on 19th July 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Keith Simpson Keith Simpson Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 2:54 pm, 19th July 2007

I would hope that any British Government would look with a great deal of favour on those people. If nothing else, we have a moral responsibility to them and a responsibility in relation to their potential fate in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe has consistently managed to foil diplomatic attempts to bring political change in Zimbabwe while —unfortunately—profiting from the protective umbrella of African states which help to keep him at arm's length from the demands of the international community. However, those very African states that will bear the brunt of the social and political fallout in the event of Zimbabwe's collapse. As the Minister pointed out, large numbers of refugees are already moving into the neighbouring countries of South Africa, Botswana and Malawi, and the potential for regional destabilisation is growing.

What estimates have the Government made of the number of refugees who are pouring into each of those countries and what is the Government's assessment of the countries' capacity to cope with any surge in the numbers fleeing? The international community must be ready to assist the south African countries and plan a response to the possible humanitarian crisis that looms ever closer. What international assistance would be provided in the event of a desperate humanitarian situation? What discussions have the Government held at the UN and with our European partners about this subject?

One of our many concerns is the security and well-being of UK passport holders in Zimbabwe. Will the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr. Thomas, tell the House how many UK passport holders are residing in Zimbabwe? Furthermore, if the internal situation breaks down into wider disorder, what are the Government's contingency plans to protect or evacuate those people? I am trying to keep to specific factual questions. I would have hoped that the Foreign Office might have thought that hon. Members would ask such questions. I look to the Minister to reply to some of them during his winding-up speech.

For such reasons, now, more than ever, the international community must ensure that concerted pressure is brought to bear on the regime to hasten the return of democracy. Mugabe's position internally is increasingly precarious, and there are signs of factions developing in ZANU-PF, his party. In that context, the redoubling of efforts across a broad coalition of countries could undoubtedly help to strengthen the existing forces for change.

One of the most pertinent points that has been raised during the debate is whether President Mugabe will be invited to attend the EU-African Union summit later this year. I understand only too well that the British Government wish, as far as possible, to line up with their EU partners. Considerable strength will arise from that. However, given what my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Malcolm Rifkind said about the Prime Minister's alleged comments, many people will have found it incredible that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was unable to say that the British Government's preferred option was for President Mugabe not to attend the conference. That should be the Government's preferred option. It would find support across the House and send a powerful message to Mugabe and his henchmen.

Surely possible disadvantages would be outweighed by the implications of Mugabe's attendance. Allowing him to attend would be wholly inconsistent with the EU common position that bans 140 of Mugabe's henchmen and officials from travelling. We know that he will exploit the occasion for all it is worth to show Zimbabweans that he is still fêted and welcomed by the international community. We must send the signal that the destruction that he has wrought on his own people cannot be tolerated not only by Britain, a former colonial power, but the whole of the EU. Successive British Prime Ministers have talked about putting Britain at the centre of Europe. On this issue, let us at least put ourselves firmly at the centre of the EU, set an example and damn the others to follow us.

In May, in reply to the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr. Hague, the Minister for the Middle East wrote:

"We will look to the Presidency for a solution on Zimbabwean attendance that is consistent with the EU Common Position on Zimbabwe."—[ Hansard, 14 May 2007; Vol. 460, c. 504W.]

Will the Under-Secretary explain in more detail during his winding-up speech what outcome the Government would consider to be consistent with the EU common position? What steps will the Government take to ensure that Mugabe cannot attend? Will the Minister assure the House that none of the representatives of Mugabe's Government who is on the EU travel ban list will be allowed to attend? Will the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister gave a commitment that he will not attend the conference if President Mugabe attends? Will he give us a clear yes or no?

International sanctions justifiably target the influential figures at the heart of the regime in Zimbabwe—those who continue to prosper at the direct expense of the general populace. We understand that whatever action Britain takes should be carried out through the mechanism of the European Union because that will refute Mugabe's argument that Britain, the former colonial power, is the driving force. Unfortunately, sanctions have lacked a direct impact to affect the attitudes of those who could force Mugabe to change his course. As the Minister said, fewer than 130 individuals linked to the Mugabe regime are subject to a travel ban and asset freeze under EU sanctions. Will the Government clarify whether they believe that 130 individuals accurately reflects the number of people responsible for conducting Mugabe's operations across the wide network of governmental departments and bodies, and police, youth-militia and intelligence services?

Following the violence that took place against opposition politicians in Zimbabwe four months ago, the UK Government said:

"We are pushing for, and expect there to be, progress on the addition of extra names to the EU visa ban list".—[ Hansard, 26 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1164.]

However, since then, only a handful of names have been included, and that can hardly be described as a substantial advance. The one person whose name is continually mentioned in debates on the subject—Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who is responsible for the country's treasury and who controls almost all the economic Ministries—does not appear on the EU list, although it appears on the lists drawn up by New Zealand and the United States. Why is it not on the EU list, and why have the British Government not told our European colleagues that that is totally and utterly unacceptable?

In a letter of 21 July to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, the Foreign Secretary's predecessor said that the UK would press the EU to add Mr. Gono's name to the EU list. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs tell the House why those representations failed? Did the EU say, "Not now; we are not prepared to do that. Come back later"? Will those representations be revived, or does the EU lack the resolve to deal with the matter?

Surely the time has come for a wider asset freeze and travel ban, covering all family members and business associates of the people who are already on the list, and surely EU visas and residence permits should be cancelled. It is well known that many family members of Zimbabwean Government officials on the EU travel ban list reside in EU countries. It would significantly strengthen the EU common position if we revoked those rights of residence. Additionally, the institutions in Zimbabwe that are instruments of the Government and their members should be made subject to the EU assets freeze. It is crucial that the Mugabe regime and those closest to it start to feel the personal cost of the devastation that they are inflicting on their country.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website