I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Exiting the European Union and Sanctions.
May I congratulate those who have just given their maiden speeches?
The United Kingdom has long been one of the most networked and outward-looking countries in the world. The Prime Minister has set out her vision for the country, following our exit from the European Union: a truly global Britain—a country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike. We hold fast to a vision of a UK that is respected abroad, tolerant at home, engaged in the world, and working with international partners to advance the prosperity and security of our nation.
That said, we live in a fast-changing and uncertain world. The United Kingdom faces a number of threats from states that act in contravention of international law, from individuals who peddle messages of hate or commit acts of terror, and from companies that corrupt basic standards of behaviour, and this country needs as many tools as are available to counter these threats and to influence the behaviour of others.
Effective, targeted sanctions policy is one of those tools. Sanctions have helped resolve complex and serious policy issues—for example, by bringing Iran to the negotiating table to agree to robust constraints on its nuclear programme. The UK currently implements 34 sanctions regimes, around half of which result from legally binding resolutions of the UN Security Council, and half from additional measures agreed with partners in the European Union. We must retain the ability to impose, update and lift sanctions regimes, both to comply with our international obligations and to pursue our wider foreign policy and national security objectives after we exit the European Union.
The referendum result last year was a clear message from the people of the United Kingdom that we need to change our relationship with the European Union and take back control of our laws, and this Government are delivering on that instruction through the ongoing negotiations, the second round of which is under way this week, and through the introduction of essential legislation, such as the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which the Government published last week.
This mantra of taking back control of our own laws has been very prominent in the Brexit debate. Could the Minister give an example of an EU sanction that the United Kingdom would not want to apply, or of a sanction that it would want to apply, but that the European Union does not currently apply, just to give us some idea of how much control we need to take back in this area?
I will respond to the hon. Gentleman perhaps later in my speech. This is more about powers than policy. The UK wants to pursue a consistent policy as we go forward, but to do so, we will need powers as we exit the European Union.
The UK’s implementation of UN sanctions and European Union multilateral sanctions relies on the European Communities Act 1972. The UK has some limited domestic powers to impose sanctions—notably in domestic counter-terrorism—but these are not sufficient to replicate the full range of sanctions in force through the European Union. While the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will preserve or freeze existing sanctions, it would not provide the powers necessary to create new regimes, as we may need to in future, or to update, amend or lift sanctions, as we have done in the past when there are changes in circumstances in the fast-moving world of foreign policy.
When the United Kingdom exits the European Union in March 2019, we will therefore need to have new legislation in place. As set out in Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech, the international sanctions Bill will be introduced this Session. The Bill will focus on powers, not policy, establishing the legal framework that we need to continue implementing UN sanctions, and to return decision-making powers on non-UN sanctions to the UK, while preserving flexibility, for now, on how we use those powers in relation to specific countries or threats.
Does not the Minister accept that what he has outlined of this process really does underline the stupidity of some of the arguments around sovereignty? He says that we can now impose our own sanctions regime, but we are less powerful and less influential acting alone than we would be acting through the European Union.
I do not agree. The referendum clearly took the key decision that we would be leaving the European Union, but that does not prohibit us from working with allies in the European Union, or indeed elsewhere. The UK will continue to be a powerful, positive influence in the world, and we can work with allies on a number of planes.
Returning to the Bill, on
We intend to preserve important elements of our current approach to sanctions, using them in a targeted fashion to maximise the intended pressure while minimising unintended consequences. In line with the Human Rights Act 1998, we will designate people only when this is justified by evidence, and we will provide a framework for sanctioned persons to challenge their designations in a court. We will improve current practice where we can, using the greater flexibility we will have in future to provide guidance to UK businesses affected by sanctions and to grant licences to prevent sanctions from disrupting humanitarian operations. The Bill will ensure that the United Kingdom is ready, on exit day, to continue to play a leading role as a global foreign and security policy actor. It will allow us both to meet our international obligations and to support our own foreign policy and national security.
It is clear that sanctions are most effective when agreed multilaterally with our allies and partners around the world. The more countries acting in concert, the greater the impact of sanctions and the less scope there is for evasion or retaliatory measures. UN sanctions are therefore the gold standard, as they bind the entire international community. However, as we see in relation to Russia and Syria, we also need to be able to work with the EU, the US and Canada, and other allies to impose sanctions outside the UN framework.
We cannot say with complete certainty at this stage what the precise form of our future co-operation with the EU will be, and what that will look like after the UK’s exit. That will depend on the wider negotiations on our future relationship in the field of foreign and security policy. However, as the Prime Minister and others have said, there is a clear mutual interest in a deep and special partnership. We remain committed to European security and to working with our EU allies to counter global threats that we all face. Sanctions are an important means to that end, and the international sanctions Bill will ensure that we retain the necessary powers.
I welcome today’s debate as an important opportunity for Members across the House to feed into the vision for a global Britain, and to discuss how our sanctions regime will operate after we leave the European Union.
Sanctions are obviously an extremely important policy lever. People often think of sanctions as a modern policy instrument, but Thucydides mentions them as one of the instruments used against Megara in 432. Unfortunately, on that occasion they did not succeed in averting the Peloponnesian war. Sanctions are crucial nowadays, and it is vital that Ministers have the legal powers to implement sanctions policy in line with foreign policy objectives and responsibilities.
As the Minister has just said, the Government produced a consultation document on
I may be able to help the hon. Lady. There was something called a general election that came along, and these things cannot be announced during purdah, so to have a proper response to the consultation, it is appropriate that we should prepare it during the coming few weeks and months. It would have been improper to have done so earlier.
I am not of course suggesting that the Bill should have been produced in the middle of the general election campaign, but it is quite clear that consultation responses were coming in during that period. As the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said, officials have been looking at the responses. This is another example of the chaos and confusion that is evident on the part of the Government in the whole Brexit process. We had another example of that on Monday, when, without any explanation, Ministers withdrew the motion on a unified patent court. Across the board, policy is not being processed sensibly. These are not pieces on a chess board, but important areas of policy responsibility.
The consultation paper said that the legal powers we need to maintain sanctions will be put in the Bill, but it will not look at the policy goals or at how we will align future UK sanctions with those imposed by the European Union. I can understand the first part, but I really want to learn from Ministers whether the second part can be true. For sanctions to be effective, they must obviously be co-ordinated with our partners. Surely the way we make decisions to initiate and review sanctions must be explicitly linked with the processes of our partners in the UN and the European Union.
Hitherto in the EU, sanctions have often related to upholding values set out in the common foreign and security policy, including human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. These should continue to be the cornerstones of our policy post-Brexit. I would be grateful to the Minister for Europe and the Americas if he confirmed that. The European Council has hitherto adopted decisions, together with any necessary regulations, and set out the elements of each individual sanctions regime. A number of UK Departments—principally, the Home Office, the Treasury and the Department for International Trade—have then taken on the responsibility for implementation. Will Ministers explain which Department will take the lead in co-ordinating other Departments on future sanctions?
In 1998, the Labour Government carried out a wide-ranging review of UK sanctions policy. When reporting to Parliament on the outcome of that review, the then Government outlined the core principles of sanctions policy: sanctions should be targeted to hit the regime, rather than ordinary people; they should include exemptions to minimise the humanitarian impact on innocent civilians; they should have clear objectives, including well defined and realistic demands against which compliance can be judged, with a clear exit strategy; there should be effective arrangements for implementation and enforcement by all states, especially neighbouring countries; and sanctions should avoid unnecessary adverse impacts on UK economic and commercial interests. We believe that these principles remain appropriate, and I would like an assurance from Ministers that they take the same view.
In the consultation paper, the Government state:
“Primary legislation will create a framework containing powers to impose sanctions regimes, the details of which will be laid out in the secondary legislation”.
That is somewhat vague. We seem to be being presented with a number of Henry VIII powers. We would be grateful if Ministers could tell us what the supervision and accountability arrangements with Parliament will be.
Assuming that the Bill creates a broad framework, and given the importance of ensuring that individual sanctions regimes are carefully calibrated, we believe that there is a good case for saying that all secondary legislation imposing UK sanctions should be subject to the affirmative procedure. In other words, new sanctions or changes to sanctions should require a debate on the Floor of the House, rather than in Committee upstairs. That is the only mechanism that would provide the requisite parliamentary scrutiny and the opportunity for us to hold the Government to account.
We would also like to know what level of oversight will be built into the process of reviewing sanctions. The consultation paper says only that both
“UN and EU sanctions are subject to internal reviews…We propose a similar approach under our new legislation…Internal reviews by the Government could include periodic reviews of individual designations or of entire regimes.”
Obviously, sanctions regimes need to adapt to changing circumstances, so ongoing parliamentary scrutiny and independent oversight will always be necessary. We want Ministers to provide clarity on that, so that procedures for accountability and independent oversight are built into any new legislation. We would like the Government to publish an annual report on the implementation of the sanctions regime, and to give Parliament a role in periodic reviews of UK sanctions—for instance, by making the Government’s annual report the subject of debates in both Houses—as well as a role in re-authorising ongoing sanctions on a yearly basis.
It is really difficult for a meaningful debate on this issue to take place until we have more clarity on the extent to which future UK-EU co-operation can take place, as my hon. Friend Wes Streeting has said. That is particularly true of decisions as to whether sanctions should be imposed in the first place. The case of Ukraine is a good example of why it will remain important for us to work with the EU in future. It serves as perhaps the most prominent recent reminder of how collectively imposed sanctions can still have a real impact outside the UN. Everybody knows that the UK played a key role in making the intellectual case for those sanctions, and that the UK undertook significant diplomatic efforts in the EU and at the G7. How will the Government ensure not just that UK-EU co-operation on sanctions continues after we leave the EU, but that we will maintain our ability to shape decisions on when the EU sanctions are imposed? [Interruption.] “We won’t,” mumbles the Minister. We will hear whether, instead of mumbling on the Front Bench, he can answer those questions at the end of the debate.
As a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, just said—I think this is right—that about half the sanctions in which we are involved are not subject to UN resolutions, but have come separately from the European Union. Given that the debate is about exiting the European Union and sanctions, it is reasonable to focus on the European angle.
The Government have set up their consultation and scheduled this debate, but they are not able to explain how in practice we will co-operate with our allies in the EU on issues such as intelligence sharing, policing and judicial matters, and all the things that are needed to enforce compliance with sanctions regimes in an effective way. The lack of any plan is another example of the Government’s recklessness in threatening to use security co-operation as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations.The role of the financial sector is likely to be key in implementing any effective UK sanctions regime, particularly in terms of tackling money laundering and terrorist funding. The size of the City of London means that our role is vital. We have a record of leading in this area, although concerns remain about money laundering and sanctions evasion.
A critical question concerns the extent to which any new sanctions regime will be applied to the UK’s overseas territories. Following the revelations of the Panama papers, it is clear that all the UK’s overseas territories could play a part in tracking down and clamping down on illicit finance. That applies especially to the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands, which have faced heavy criticism in the past, but also to territories such as Bermuda that are responsible for their own legislation in this area.
What is the Government’s assessment of whether sanctions are being adequately implemented and enforced in all UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies? Will the Channel Islands and Bermuda be responsible for their own legislation in this area under a new regime? What steps will the Government take to monitor implementation and enforcement in the overseas territories? Will they commit to reporting regularly to Parliament on this matter?
The question of sanctions is important and significant. It is a shame that we have not had more clarity from the Government today in the form of legislation, but I hope that when the Minister winds up the debate, he will be able to answer some of our questions.
It is with humility and excitement that I make my maiden speech representing the constituency of Saffron Walden, the jewel of Essex. I am honoured to serve the people of this beautiful constituency and hope I can repay the faith they have placed in me.
I am also burdened by the weight of expectation. You see, Madam Deputy Speaker, Saffron Walden has not had a maiden speech since Rab Butler’s in 1929. He held three of the great offices of state, but I am most proud that, as a Conservative Minister, he introduced the Education Act 1944, which gave every British child a statutory right to free secondary education.
I also pay tribute to my most recent predecessor, the right hon. Sir Alan Haselhurst, who served Saffron Walden with distinction for 40 years. He is well known to many of us here as a former Deputy Speaker and one of the kindest Members to grace this House—the ultimate gentleman. He is much loved in the constituency, and I am forever grateful to him for being a brilliant mentor and helping every day of the campaign, come rain or shine. I am still bowled over whenever I remember that Sir Alan became a Member of Parliament 10 years before I was born. It has been a joy to follow in his footsteps—except when we were out delivering leaflets and I found myself consistently outrun by an 80-year-old man.
Like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am proud to be an Essex girl. Saffron Walden is a great place and was judged the best rural place to live by no less than the Daily Mail. After seven years of Conservative-led Government, unemployment is at an all-time low of 0.7%, and 99% of children go to a good or outstanding primary or secondary school. We also boast the UK’s oldest land college in Writtle.
The constituency covers rural Chelmsford and the major settlements of Thaxted, Great Dunmow and the medieval market town of Saffron Walden itself. It was called Saffron Walden because of its large saffron crop. The spice was worth its weight in gold and was used in medicine, in perfume and even as an aphrodisiac. Like the saffron crocus, I am not a native of the great county of Essex—I come from more exotic climes. While I may not have all the attributes of this versatile flower, I hope that I will equally take root in the area, bring prosperity to the local people and add some colour and spice to this Chamber.
Much has changed since then, but more change is needed—change to the rickety network on which mobile phones operate, change to the inadequate broadband service that has left parts of the constituency with little access to the outside world, and change to the railway line that has become synonymous with being late for work. We cannot claim to offer opportunities to rural areas if basic infrastructure is not provided. My constituents are more likely to get to Spain faster than London, because we have Stansted, the country’s fourth largest airport. It has brought jobs—and noise—and growth to the area on a huge scale, and has cemented my constituency’s position as the epicentre of business, travel and wealth in Essex.
I am often inexplicably confused with a member of the Labour party—I cannot think why. I am a Conservative. To all intents and purposes, I am a first-generation immigrant. I was born in Wimbledon, but I grew up in Nigeria. I chose to make the United Kingdom my home. Growing up in Nigeria I saw real poverty—I experienced it, including living without electricity and doing my homework by candlelight, because the state electricity board could not provide power, and fetching water in heavy, rusty buckets from a borehole a mile away, because the nationalised water company could not get water out of the taps. Unlike many colleagues born since 1980, I was unlucky enough to live under socialist policies. It is not something I would wish on anyone, and it is just one of the reasons why I am a Conservative. I believe that the state should provide social security, but it must also provide a means for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
As a woman of African origin, I also believe that there is a lot that Africa can teach us. Sound money is not just a catchy phrase. The lesson of Zimbabwe is salient for us today. Money cannot be printed and redistribution cannot be successful without first creating wealth. Edmund Burke said that society is a contract between the dead, the living and those yet to be born. I say to colleagues who are wavering on tackling the debt and the deficit, “Hold your nerve.” This is part of that contract that we owe to our descendants. To leave our children carrying the burdens of our debt and excesses is morally wrong.
I believe in free markets and free trade. But there is more to conservatism than economic liberalism—there is respect for the rule of law; personal responsibility; freedom of speech and of association; and opportunity through meritocracy. Those freedoms are being subtly eroded in an era when emotion and feeling are prized above reason and logic. It is those freedoms that I will seek to defend during my time in this House.
There are few countries in the world where you can go in one generation from immigrant to parliamentarian. Michael Howard spoke of the British dream—people choosing this country because of its tolerance and its opportunity. It is a land where a girl from Nigeria can move, aged 16, be accepted as British and have the great honour of representing Saffron Walden.
There are some in this country, and this Chamber, who seek to denigrate the traditions of this Parliament, portraying this House as a bastion of privilege and class, that “reeks of the establishment”, as someone said. It is no coincidence that those who seek to undermine the institutions of this island—Parliament, monarchy, Church and family—also propagate a world view that sees Britain, and the values we hold dear, as a force for bad in the world. Growing up in Nigeria, the view was rather different. The UK was a beacon, a shining light, a promise of a better life.
Often we hear the radical reformer John Bright misquoted as saying that the House of Commons is the mother of all Parliaments. What he actually said was that this country is the mother of all Parliaments. Our political institutions may not always be held in high esteem, but I believe that politics is a mirror held up to society. Yes, it can sometimes be unedifying. Yes, we see human weakness on display. But it also embodies much that is great in our country. When I walk down these corridors and stand in this Chamber, once graced by my heroes, Winston Churchill, Airey Neave and Margaret Thatcher, I am filled with nothing but awe, respect and pride for all that it stands for.
As Woody Allen said about sex, “If it’s not messy, you’re not doing it right.” The same is true of democracy. It is not always predictable; its results are not always elegant; it can throw up results that no one expected—but we adjust. The British Parliament always has adjusted, and that is why it is the oldest in the world: it takes its lead from the British people.
We live in difficult times and face historic challenges. People are rightly concerned about what Brexit will mean for the country, for their jobs and for their families. But I do not believe that winter is coming. I believe that the vote for Brexit was the greatest ever vote of confidence in the project of the United Kingdom: that vision of a global Britain to which the Minister referred. It is a project that, as a young African girl, I dreamed about becoming part of. As a British woman, I now have the great honour of delivering that project for my constituents in the greatest Parliament on earth.
I warmly welcome Mrs Badenoch. She made a fantastic maiden speech, and she is a great credit to her community. Her speech was delivered with verve and class, and a good deal of wit. While I may not have agreed with everything she said, I am sure that her contributions will be very welcome to the Chamber.
The world looks at the United Kingdom as the Brexit negotiations develop, to see how we will manage the situation in which we find ourselves, and what kind of relationship we plan to have with the European Union and, indeed, the rest of the world. Given that the UK is without a coherent strategy and seemingly bereft of ideas—and, as we have seen in recent photos, notes—I suspect that the external image of how things are going is not entirely positive. Our international reputation is on the line. SNP Members, however, welcome the opportunity to debate the real impact that leaving the EU will have on our international influence and clout.
There is a risk that after leaving the EU, the UK will be marginalised and diminished on the international stage. I know that no one in the Chamber wants that to happen, but there will inevitably be a reduction in our ability—if not a complete loss of ability—to impose meaningful sanctions on our own, or to make any meaningful contribution to a progressive international agenda. One of the Government’s own colleagues, the former Foreign Secretary, has called for the UK to keep its seat on the EU’s Political and Security Committee. I hope that the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers will enlighten us as to whether he agrees with his colleague.
As has already been pointed out, sanctions rarely operate effectively in isolation. Success depends on a combination of dialogue, agreement and conflict prevention between various countries. Clearly, working with the EU presents a broader range of tools than would be available to the UK when operating alone. Giving up our seat at the sanctions table will see the UK lose the ability to apply sanctions with the same breadth and weight. It will also lose access to key forums through which to push for ongoing momentum and accord among fellow EU member states. There must not be any serious divergence from EU partners in respect of sanctions. The UK must not relax any sanctions that are materially more restrictive than existing or new EU sanctions, especially when the UK has significant trade with a particular country.
Many have expressed fears that the UK may be dragged on to the new United States President’s rather unpredictable turf. For example, as President-Elect he severely criticised the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. If he were to impose new sanctions on Iran, there might be pressure on the UK—and our “special relationship”—to follow suit. The new President has also indicated that the US would ease sanctions on Russia. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has indicated that the EU will not change its policy on Russia, even if the US does. The UK must do likewise. Leaning more closely towards an Administration led by Donald Trump creates concern for many. We must hear from the Government that they will continue to take their international obligations seriously, keeping fairness and decency at the heart of any new trade deals and sanctions policies.
As the largest trade bloc in the world, the biggest global aid donor and a notable international investor, the EU adds weight to the UK’s foreign and security policy efforts. Commenting on the possible impact of Brexit on the EU’s own sanctions policy, Dr Erica Moret at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva recently said:
“A Brexit-weakened EU sanctions policy is likely to intensify the need to employ other, more expensive, controversial or complicated forms of diplomacy, coercion or pressure. It will also likely strengthen Russia’s hand against Europe, as it benefits from a fragmented Europe with a weaker toolbox of security instruments at its disposal.”
Those comments are deeply concerning and should worry us all.
Indeed, a Foreign Affairs Committee report said that the United Kingdom’s relations with Russia gave an interesting insight into trouble ahead for the UK acting alone on sanctions. The report concluded that
“it will be increasingly difficult to sustain a united western position on sanctions, not least if they become a bargaining point during Brexit negotiations.”
Our worry is that there is everything to play for, but also everything to lose.
We should all be concerned, because our international role and responsibilities extend much further than just Russia. On
After Brexit the UK will need to establish the necessary independent policy development and sanctions design architecture, for which it has mostly relied on Brussels until now.
The hon. Lady is making some important points, but does this not underline the arguments she is making about the complexity of imposing travel bans, asset freezes and so forth, and stopping those who are the target of sanctions? Does this not underline the argument for a proper transition period in respect of our withdrawal? The suite of instruments the hon. Lady refers to are complex in nature, not least legislatively. I do not see how we are going to be able to complete the process of putting in place a framework that we can apply independently in the tiny timescale that we have before our scheduled exit from the EU.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and think he may have been reading my mind, as will become clear from my next point.
If the UK Government cannot agree among themselves on a transition policy for Brexit and a deal, as we have seen this week with the vastly differing approaches of the Chancellor and the International Trade Secretary, I and others seriously doubt their capacity to design sanctions architecture, let alone agree on what and where those sanctions should be imposed. And even if they do, the effectiveness of UK-only applied sanctions will be severely diminished.
“The UK needs to be able to impose and implement sanctions in order to comply with our obligations under the United Nations (UN) Charter and to support our wider foreign policy and national security goals. Many of our current powers flow from the European Communities Act 1972 so we will need new legal powers to replace these…It is not possible to achieve this through the Great Repeal Bill, as preserving or freezing sanctions would not provide the powers necessary to update, amend or lift sanctions in response to fast moving events.”
And events are moving fast; we have a short period, so the Government need to think very carefully and give us a response on that transition period.
Any new legislation must be clear about how these powers will be developed and implemented and, further, what infrastructure and regulation will look like to support those new powers. Additionally, the Law Society of Scotland has raised a number of pertinent points in relation to the UK Government’s White Paper. These points are significant because they highlight the complexity—as Chuka Umunna has just said—and scale of the task at hand, not to mention just how many sectors and areas of competence will be impacted by exiting the EU, and the need for a new set of rules and regulations. It is clear that lawyers, accountants and consultants will be very busy over the next few years—and, no doubt, considerably richer. But what estimate have the Government made of the cost of training lawyers and accountants to deal with the new laws and regulations, and what provision has been considered for the teaching of the new regulations and laws at our universities, colleges and institutions? We need a workforce that will be ready to go when those new provisions arrive.
An interesting point about cross-border jurisdiction also arises on page 23 of the Government’s White Paper. The Law Society of Scotland is very concerned about this. The White Paper identifies special advocates as
“barristers in independent practice of the highest integrity, experience and ability, from civil and criminal practices. They are bound by the ethical standards of the Bar Council.”
I know that many in the profession would like clarity and assurances that special advocates should be able to be drawn from the ranks of not only the Bar in England and Wales but the Bar in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from suitably qualified solicitor advocates in all those jurisdictions, but it appears that the UK Government have again—whether by accident or intent—failed to recognise at the most fundamental level that the devolved nations exist.
According to the Law Society of Scotland, the Government’s proposed additional power to seize funds and assets in order to freeze them appears to be unrelated to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. This therefore seems like a curious thing to sneak in. Will the Secretary of State clarify why this has appeared at this juncture? It concerns me and, I am sure, others that the UK Government would introduce new legislation that is potentially unrelated to the UK exiting the EU. This is not good practice, and we need to understand the rationale behind it. It is clear that the UK Government are going to have very little, if any, time in which to do their day job as they deal with enormity of Brexit, but they have some serious questions to answer on how they will manage and develop their sanctions policy. It is key to our reputation on the global stage, and to how we will work with the rest of the world.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank Hannah Bardell for her speech. It was comprehensive, but rather different in its thrust from mine. I must not pass up the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Badenoch on her excellent speech and to refer to the really great camaraderie that she and I and the rest of our intake have enjoyed. I am particularly fond of Saffron Walden as it is where my mother went to college. In fact, Rab Butler cut the ribbon at the opening of her college in 1965. I hope she does not get annoyed with me for mentioning the date.
I am truly honoured to have been chosen as the Member of Parliament for Northampton South. I have big boots to fill, in a town that is rich with an industrial history of manufacturing boots and shoes. There is not a place in the world where a British man or woman has not left their footprint with a Northampton boot or shoe, whether in a jungle or a desert, or on a mountain or a snow-laden plain. In 1830, there were 40 shoe and boot manufacturers in Northampton, and they employed a third of all the men in the town. That does not include the ancillary industries; they were employed in actually making the boots and shoes. The fortunes of the town’s shoe and boot industry have risen, fallen and risen again. Although we are now left with only a handful of shoe manufacturers, they produce some of the most exclusive and desirable handmade shoes in the world.
My upbringing, most particularly at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Ashbourne, taught me the value of tradition. Thus—and staying with the metaphor of footprints—I would like to acknowledge the work of the former Member for Northampton South, Mr David Mackintosh. Although his tenure was short, his impact and the footprint of his public service to this House and to his constituents were significant. When I recently visited the Hope Centre, a local homelessness and anti-poverty charity in Northampton, I learned that he was held in high regard there for helping to push through the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and for his local work on combating homelessness.
The Northampton South seat was established in 1974, and those who represented the constituency are still making their footprints on public life to this day. Lord Naseby sits in the other place and still has an involvement in local public life through his work with Northamptonshire county cricket club. Mr Tony Clarke, who succeeded Lord Naseby in 1997, was a passionate public servant and continues to be so today by educating the young adults of the town in the local further education college. Then there was Mr Brian Binley, who is well known to many here and still centrally involved with the regeneration programme, Northampton Alive.
Charles Bradlaugh, whose bust I walked past today, was a particularly famous Northampton MP. He was a radical, and I came across him many years ago when I was doing postgraduate research—he and Charles Newdigate Newdegate had some enormous debates across the House about the difference between taking an oath and taking an affirmation. Previous Northampton MP Spencer Perceval is also well known in this Chamber. It is interesting that speeches made about him in previous years referred quite light-heartedly to his fate. In more recent years, of course, that has changed significantly. When we think of Spencer Perceval now, we think of much more recent and tragic events, and about the continuity of the risks that people run when they enter public service.
Francis Crick, who—with James Watson—co-discovered DNA, which is now the driving force of so many scientific breakthroughs and discoveries, was from Northampton, but there are also less well-known people, such as Walter Tull, who played for Northampton Town football club and then for Spurs. He was the British Army’s first black officer; he fought in the first world war but, after an incredible war record, alas he was killed in 1918. Margaret Bondfield, the first ever female Cabinet member, briefly served as MP for Northampton, so there are big shoes to fill indeed.
The constituency of Northampton South is the home of Cosworth, Travis Perkins, Barclaycard and Carlsberg. Those are prestigious brands and significant employers for the area, but I draw colleagues’ attention to another business. Under the shadow of the Carlsberg plant is the Phipps brewery, which was recently re-established after years of dormancy—and a welcome return it is. Pickering Phipps II served as the Member of Parliament for Northampton from 1874 to 1880. In many ways, his brewery and Northampton—because of the tannins involved in shoe manufacturing—was responsible for the revival of recipes that gave birth to the real ale movement, which has been going from strength to strength since the 1970s.
Northampton is one of the fastest-growing towns in the country, and has been for decades—I noticed that all my predecessors made reference to that fact in their maiden speeches. As I will, they referred to the pressures on public services, challenges for the high street and the major issue of housing. With the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, my hon. Friend Michael Ellis, I will be campaigning for new and better facilities for Northampton General Hospital to meet the needs of a rapidly expanding town. We need more housing, better transport infrastructure and a more focused regeneration effort. As championed by Northampton Borough Council and the county council, we need an emphasis on culture and heritage to bring new vitality to Northampton town centre.
I hope my time as a county council leader myself will be helpful for all that, but—and here is a link to the debate topic—just over a month ago I was a Member of the European Parliament in Brussels. I have been told—I keep saying it and no one has contradicted me yet—that I am the only person ever to have served as a council leader, a Member of the European Parliament and an MP. As an MEP, I specialised in culture, education and regional development and fought for things that matter to me, such as the possible continuation of the Erasmus+ programme, or the introduction of a home-grown successor if not.
I do not know whether that is in reference to Erasmus+ or the home-grown successor—don’t answer that!
As an MEP, I also spent quite a lot of time working on the revision of the audiovisual media services directive, making the case for avoiding the unnecessary burden of over-regulation while protecting freedom of speech. I was also particularly interested in religious freedom and highlighted the case of Asia Bibi, who lives under a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan. I hope in this place to continue the work I was involved in to try to save her from the terrible situation she is in.
I was a reluctant leaver, but I still believe it is the right choice for the UK. In many ways, the complexity of leaving, which we are discussing tonight, simply underlines how much of our sovereignty we had lost and reminds us all that our work here is about not only getting a good deal as we leave but being ready to innovate in policy areas that this House has not had the lead on, or even much of a say about, for many years. Trade, environment and agriculture are not just something on which we will get a deal, but something on which we will need to work and innovate for ourselves henceforth.
Finally, let me go back to the tradition of describing one’s constituency as the most beautiful. Northampton certainly does have some beautiful buildings. It has a fascinating history, notably in the medieval period. It is my non-conformist and Methodist roots coming out when I say that much of its beauty lies in its industriousness, and that much of what makes the country as a whole great is to be found there. Much of what will challenge us as politicians in the years ahead can also be found there within its boundaries.
It is a great pleasure to follow two such excellent maiden speeches. I congratulate Mrs Badenoch on her speech. We share a background and a love for the London Assembly, of which we have both been members, and for Nigeria; I sense that she shares not just my love for it, but my frustration that that wonderful country still faces so many challenges. I look forward to working with her over the coming years. I also congratulate Andrew Lewer on his speech. He has described his interesting and illustrious predecessors, but his track record, both in Europe and as an excellent council leader, augurs well for his future here. I am sure that he will be named similarly in future maiden speeches. I welcome them both to this place.
Today, we are here to focus on exiting the European Union and sanctions. I want to discuss both those things—together and slightly separately—because they are very connected. I reiterate the comment made by my hon. Friend Helen Goodman, which is: where is the Bill, Minister? We have already seen the publication of the grand repeal Bill, but this Bill has a pretty important connection with that. We cannot do the one without the other, and it really sums up, as Hannah Bardell said, the challenges of how we timetable and deliver on this hugely challenging programme for our Parliament over the next 20 months. The Minister’s response to that from the Dispatch Box underlines the lack of planning that we have seen on the Public Accounts Committee, which I have had the privilege of chairing for the past two years, where we have repeatedly heard examples from permanent secretaries about the lack of planning—a deliberate policy.
For example, on
“We were following the guidance given by Ministers, which was not to make contingency plans for this outcome.”
“we run £40 billion-worth of the benefits system in tax credits and child benefit…there is excise and the decisions to be made there…there is VAT…and the question of what difference this would make to direct taxes and state aid.”
He went on to list other big concerns.
Let me take HMRC as an example of the challenges that this Government, this Parliament and this country face as we move to leaving the European Union over the next 20 months. That Department is already going through huge change in its estate management, in its IT and in the way that it tackles and deals with taxes.
We all know that it takes about 18 months on a fair wind to make a major change to the tax system, which is why budgets are planned some time in advance for those technical points, and yet the permanent secretary and the chief executive of HMRC has listed to our Committee and to this House eight other serious areas of concern—more than one Government Department can realistically manage—and that is just one Department. I have to say that that permanent secretary was the only one who actually had a long list. Other Departments—I will not name them all—mentioned the discussions they were having, but nothing really concrete about how they were planning to implement our exit from the European Union.
The hon. Lady is making some pertinent points about HMRC and the challenges of the customs system going through a transitional phase when it is already creaking under the pressure. Does she not also share my concern that in constituencies such as mine in Livingston, a high proportion of staff who are highly skilled in such systems and processes will be lost because of the transition the Government are going through? If we put Brexit on top of that, it becomes a perfect storm that is about to hit us.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. If we add on the other changes in Government Departments—the DWP is going through some changes of property and where jobs might be—that poses a challenge. We face a challenge with skills in this country anyway, and we can add to that our exit from the European Union and the fact that we have so many unanswered questions about what will happen to EU citizens residing in the UK and others who need to come here. We heard only the other day that the NHS needs to bring in a large number of GPs from the European Union because we are unable to recruit in this country. Whatever one might have thought of these policies before, we are now seeing skilled people who are potentially unable to move to new locations and we do not yet have a skills strategy to fill not just those gaps but the others we might see as we leave the EU. A perfect storm is perhaps a polite way of putting it; I could think of fruitier ways of describing it, but I will leave the fruity conversation to the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, who stretched the boundaries further than I will on this occasion.
I will not list every Department and its problems, but we have a long list if other hon. Members are interested in seeing it, given the challenges that each Department faces in its exit from the EU, the lack of planning, and the lack of joined-upness across Government. A problem in one Department, such as HMRC, will have knock-on effects in another, such as the Department for International Trade. We cannot see these things in isolation and there is not yet a coherent plan.
I hope that when he sums up the Minister can reassure me that what I am saying is not true, but the evidence we have seen in Committee suggests that this is the reality. As I have said, senior civil servants acknowledged that they were told very definitely not to plan for the leave scenario, which has put us very much on the back foot.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this reinforces the need for proper transitional arrangements? We are talking not only about the time that will be necessary. It seems to me that all the points she has just made are an argument for this country remaining part of the customs union and part of the EEA—the single market—at least in the interim, as we make our way out of the European Union.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. As we approach the summer recess—with only one Bill published for our exit from the EU, with no serious plans on the table, and with it becoming apparent that when we come back in the autumn we will not get going seriously until October—we are getting to a point at which we will not even have 18 months to get this show on the road. I am assuming and hoping that Ministers will work 24/7 over the summer to get us to a better place, but even then the timetabling of business through this House means that practically—whatever one’s philosophical view—this cannot be done in time.
I am not saying this because I am a remoaner or a doomsayer. I might have been very positive about wanting to stay in the EU, as was my constituency, but let us be practical about the reality. The delay in delivering the sanctions Bill is another of the many concerns.
It is important that I highlight the concerns of many of my constituents who are EU citizens about the uncertainty they are still facing. Even now people are phoning me or coming up to me in the street in tears because of their concerns about their future. We have heard some degree of certainty from the Prime Minister: she has told us that there will be a mechanism for those people already living here who are EU citizens to regularise their stay, but that will not be published until the end of 2018 and there is still no certainty about the costs.
I was a Home Office Minister, and much as I like to gloss the previous Labour Government as one of the best we have ever had, the reality is that the Home Office—then and now—faces huge challenges in the number of people going through its immigration system. I grappled with that as a Minister, and I did not solve it. We grapple with it as Back Benchers. I certainly do in my constituency, where I have a high number of people going through the system. The idea that, between the end of next year and when we leave, all those who so wish will be able to go through a regularisation process is cloud cuckoo land. It is not surprising that those who can afford it are going through the long-winded process of regularising their stay, getting residency and applying for citizenship.
I spoke at the weekend to a constituent, an international banker who has children. It costs £300 to reach the first hurdle in the legal process. She told me, “If I’m not wanted here I might just leave.” For her, leaving is a real option as she could get a good job elsewhere. Other good, skilled people who have given up their lives in other countries to work in the UK and pay taxes feel like turning their back on us. Some who have been settled in the UK for 15 or 20 years, whose children have grown up here, are very concerned about what the future means for them. Despite the Prime Minister giving some words of comfort—late in the day, and I do not know why this could not have been dealt with before—we need to resolve this sooner rather than later.
Sanctions are the main thrust of the debate. I am strongly of the view that UK-EU co-operation needs to be maintained. I say that not because I am trying to rewind the clock on the referendum—much though this is not where I wanted us to be—but because of a simple question: where would we have differed from the EU on sanctions? There are issues with money laundering and our approach to big international questions such as freezing assets across boundaries, travel bans, trade, and market restrictions, which are but a small part of that approach.
The timetabling of a sanctions Bill to fit with the great repeal Bill is another practical problem. For three years, on behalf of the British Government, I negotiated home affairs at the table in Europe with 27 member states. It took long enough to reach agreement but it was possible. However, trying to enact our Bill and align us, where we would normally agree with our European counterparts, will be incredibly challenging. It will be difficult, at this pace, to write that into law.
We must be frank: this House is not very good at legislating. The Government draft legislation—often in a hurry, and quite a lot will now be written in a hurry—the House has little chance seriously to amend it but must instead pick on the bits we can most likely amend, and as a result it often does not hang together very well. We legislate in haste and repent at leisure, taking a long time to unpick things. That is not true in every case, but as Ministers or Back Benchers dealing with our constituents’ problems we have seen it often.
Would the UK seriously go it alone? No, I think we would not, and I hope the Minister will be clear on that. Why do we not find a way of maintaining the status quo, for a transitional period at least? I fear how the Bill will fit in when it eventually comes before the House.
I have some simple questions for the Minister. How do the Government intend to timetable the repeal Bill and the future sanctions Bill, ensuring that they can work together and there is no contradiction? It would be crazy if we ended up legislating on two separate issues related to Europe, only to find that they do not work together.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I add my congratulations and best wishes to the hon. Members for Saffron Walden (Mrs Badenoch) and for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) on their maiden speeches. They spoke with enormous passion, and although their speeches were very different in style no one can question their commitment to their constituents. I welcome both of them to the House. I thought the Woody Allen quote was a reference to my attempts at cooking, but perhaps that says something about my sheltered upbringing.
Three different things could happen when the United Kingdom is no longer automatically bound by European Union decisions on sanctions. We can attempt to impose sanctions where the EU does not do so, but that will be a waste of time because no one will pay any attention. We can choose not to impose sanctions where the EU does so, but that will probably lead to our dealing with some very dodgy characters on the world stage. The most likely outcome, however, is that we shall allow the EU to take its decisions without any UK input and tamely and obediently follow suit. Even that is not without its risks.
I am hoping that when he sums up the Minister will tell us what assessment has been made of the legal risk of the United Kingdom imposing, on its own, sanctions that have also been imposed by the European Union. It seems to me that an aggrieved party who might be put off from taking on the European Union in the courts might see an individual stand-alone legislator as a softer target. What assessment has been made of the risk that the United Kingdom will find itself as the fall guy—being sued in the courts every time the European Union does something that the bully boys of corporate business do not want to take on the EU about? They might happily have a pop at one wee tiny island in the north Atlantic.
In his opening remarks, the Minister said that we wanted to work with other countries as well as the EU. He specifically mentioned the United States of America. My hon. Friend Hannah Bardell has already raised some of the alarms on that. We have recently discovered that the President held a secret, unlimited, unrecorded meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20. We do not know whether that was in the context of a possible trade deal or state visit—maybe the President just wanted to catch up with his unofficial election agent.
What happens if those talks, which were not talks, were about the United States being willing to ease or break sanctions against Russia? Where would that leave the United Kingdom? Our bestest pal ever across the Atlantic says, “Trade with Putin!” The European Union says no and our conscience has to say no. Can the Minister give an assurance that regardless of what crazy crackpot scheme Trump and Putin cook up between themselves, until the Russians have returned every last square inch of Ukrainian territory into the hands of the people and elected Government of Ukraine, there will be no lessening of sanctions by the United Kingdom unless that has been agreed by the entire European Union?
Another concern would be if the UK decided to impose sanctions but nobody else did. We have to remind ourselves that the United Kingdom is no longer a colonial power; the sun sets every day on the British empire, which does not extend any further than the British isles. There is a real danger that, to prove some kind of political machismo, the United Kingdom will attempt to impose sanctions on countries for whatever reason and nobody else does. I was going to say that we would be made to look like a laughing stock, but it is a bit too late for that.
Can the Minister name a single example of a country where unilateral sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom would make a blind bit of difference? It seems to me that we are frantically, with a huge amount of hassle, taking back control of something. Attempting to exercise that control unilaterally and in an isolationist manner will achieve absolutely nothing, but it will incur significant expense and legal risk for the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston raised some of the comments made by the Law Society of Scotland. One of the things that it has identified is what would happen if the United Kingdom wanted to start, on its own, imposing sanctions on countries believed to be sponsoring terrorism—I will not mention the secret report on Saudi Arabia that the Government appear to have commissioned but now will not tell anybody about. Of course, there is no suggestion at all that the Saudi Arabian Government are involved in anything unlawful in Yemen or anywhere else. How could anyone possibly suggest that?
What steps are the Government taking to arrive at a legally sound definition of what a terrorist-supporting state actually is? If that is not clear at the beginning, the door is again open for us to be sued by any aggrieved party. I am reminded that one of the very few countries that Gordon Brown, the previous Prime Minister, used anti-terrorism legislation against was Iceland. That shows what can happen if a definition of terrorism is a bit too vague. I have never known Iceland to sponsor state terrorism, but Mr Brown apparently thought that it did.
I understand the need for the Government to talk positively and bullishly about every single aspect of Brexit, despite the fact that the majority of their own party voted against it in the referendum, but we need to be realistic. We need to be alert to the fact that the United Kingdom’s trading position and international reputation could be at risk and its economy severely damaged.
The Minister chose not to name a single example of EU sanctions that the Government would want to lift or of where the United Kingdom would want to impose sanctions that have not already been imposed by the European Union. This appears to be yet another example of where the desperation to take back control has come before any sensible, intelligent consideration about whether in some cases control is better exercised by 28 nations acting together than by one tiny little island in the north Atlantic that thinks it can do it all by itself.
It is my first opportunity to welcome you to your new seat in the Chamber, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is great to see you there.
We have had a useful and informative debate this afternoon, although it has been slightly shorter than we anticipated because of other important debates. There have been some helpful contributions from across the House, including the maiden speech of Mrs Badenoch, who likened herself to her constituency’s namesake, spice. I am certain that she has a wonderful future ahead of her in this House and that her constituents will be, rightly, proud of her today. Andrew Lewer spoke of his pride in his constituency’s boot-making heritage. His affection for his constituency was obvious and it was a treat to be in the Chamber to hear his maiden speech. Well done. I welcome both hon. Members to the House.
My hon. Friend Meg Hillier spoke of the need for transitional arrangements. Surely this argument is all but over. There will be a transitional period, and I look forward to the day when a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and tells us what we all now know to be inevitable.
The debate has been helpful in that it follows the White Paper on international sanctions published in April, and precedes the introduction of the Bill. Are the Government considering adopting a similar approach to the other Brexit-related Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech? My hon. Friend Helen Goodman asked: where is the Bill? But perhaps this new approach is a welcome sign of a new and collaborative approach from the Government. Ensuring that Parliament has a sufficient grip on the Brexit process is important to the Labour party and to the country.
Many of our constituents voted to leave the European Union because they want this House to take control of our law making. It falls to MPs to take a tight hold of the process and not allow the Government to take decisions, grab powers or devise processes that exclude Parliament. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill proposes sweeping delegated powers but lacks effective oversight or accountability. This is fundamentally undemocratic and unacceptable. The Labour party will not wave through Bills that demean our Parliament in this way.
The House has yet to see the draft legislation on sanctions, but we hope that the Government are not developing a habit and do not put something before the House that seizes more powers for Ministers than is absolutely necessary. The start the Government have made with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is bad and needs to change. It is not in the national interest to present poor legislation before the House and then get upset when the Opposition decline to support it. The Government should and must do better. Labour agrees that the vital issue of international sanctions must be resolved before we leave the EU. We recognise that and will not seek to obstruct the forthcoming legislation needlessly, but it is vital that we get the details right. This is too important to get wrong.
Britain needs the ability to act unilaterally when it is appropriate to do so, but when attempting to influence or restrict the capabilities of states such as North Korea, Sudan or Iran, it is the combined effort of many nations that may, over time, prompt the change we want. Britain’s national security is enhanced by working with our European allies, and there is no reason this cannot continue after Brexit. The Government need to set out detailed plans for future co-operation between the UK and the EU. Any decision to impose new sanctions or revoke existing ones must be subject to adequate scrutiny and periodic review. The Government need to make clear how they intend to enable parliamentary scrutiny of decisions when the intention seems to be to make regular use of secondary legislation. Does the Minister agree that sanctions decisions ought to be subject to a debate and a vote in this House? Ministers must not be allowed to make it up as they go along. The decision to implement sanctions, or not, will have a significant impact on the UK’s standing internationally, our relationships with other nations and our ability to influence. The Minister needs to reassure the House that there will be a process in place that is transparent, fair and accountable to Members of this House. Does the Minister plan to provide regular updates to the House on the impact of sanctions measures, and will this requirement be in the Bill?
It is clearly desirable for the UK to continue to work closely with the EU after we leave. Our ability to work together to impose sanctions, especially when the UN has declined to do so, is extremely important. We also need to maintain our ability to influence our EU partners, so that sanctions are as effective as they can be. With that in mind, do the Government intend these measures to come into force on exit day or might sanctions in the end form part of the now inevitable transitional period? The Government need to make it clear whether or not they plan to participate in common EU foreign and security policy, and, if so, what institutional arrangements they wish to put in place. The EU imposed tough financial sanctions on Russia following the illegal annexation of Crimea, including a total ban on imports of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol unless they have Ukrainian certificates.
My former constituency neighbour, Lord Hague, has said of sanctions on Iran:
“The ability to agree among 28 countries, sanctions that were also co-ordinated with the United States made an enormous difference to world affairs. Twenty eight countries left to their own devices would not have had identical sanctions, or brought Iran to the negotiating table. The ability to do that is very important.”'
The Government's approach to sanctions policy in the forthcoming Bill will be read as a signal of their intent to align or distance themselves from working with like-minded international partners. Do the Government want to work more closely with the US or to continue to align with Europe in a common foreign and security policy? If so, how? Do we want to negotiate continued permanent membership of the EU’s Political and Security Committee, as Lord Hague has proposed, or do the Government envisage a looser parallel arrangement?
The Minister’s face seems to suggest that he thinks these are big questions for a general debate taking place before any legislation is even published. However, these are the issues—the extent and nature of collaboration; common aims and means with EU and other nations; and the use of secondary legislation and the role of this House—that the Government must be able to answer to win the confidence not just of MPs, but of the country.
I welcome you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I start by saluting two exemplary maiden speeches that we have heard today? My hon. Friend Mrs Badenoch made her maiden speech with great confidence, saying it was the constituency’s first since 1929; I take it that was because Sir Alan Haselhurst had previously sat for Middleton and Prestwich. Of course I am slightly saddened that the population of Sir Alans in this House has reduced by one, but her speech was utterly charming and beautifully judged, and I can see, as can all of us, why those in Saffron Walden have so rabidly taken her to their hearts. I said “rabidly” by mistake; of course I meant rapidly. It may well be that her locally produced saffron aphrodisiac will soon be on sale in the parliamentary shop, and I would urge hon. Members to form a most orderly queue. Her good sense on economics is a message all in this House should heed. I congratulate her on the most perfect maiden speech.
I offer similar congratulations to my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer, whom I have known as the most diligent MEP for the East Midlands. He remains local to the East Midlands now that he is a Northamptonshire MP. He has a passion for high-quality Northamptonshire shoes; may I assure him that I endeavour to be a loyal customer? None of that Italian stuff for me. We will also try to raise a glass, when we can, charged with either Carlsberg or Phipps. He can forever be proud of the maiden speech he made tonight.
As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said in his opening speech, the Government intend to continue working closely with allies to counter threats such as terrorism, conflict and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. An effective and targeted sanctions policy is a very important means to that end, and a global Britain will continue to use sanctions to influence the behaviour of others as part of a broad and internationally co-ordinated approach.
We currently implement over 30 sanctions regimes, targeting specific countries as well as terrorist groups. Most of these sanctions result from resolutions of the UN Security Council or decisions by the European Union. Typically, they involve travel bans, asset freezes, and financial and trade restrictions. UN and EU sanctions are currently brought into effect in the UK through the European Communities Act 1972. The House has heard about the principles we apply when imposing sanctions. There must be clear objectives linked to wider political strategy; solid justification; and careful targeting to maximise the intended pressure while minimising the unintended consequences. I want to reassure hon. Members that the Government remain committed to these principles.
Today’s debate is about the principle of whether, once we have left the EU, the UK should establish a sanctions regime that allows us to replicate the sanctions powers currently deriving from our membership of the EU.
There are over 30, and the intention is to lift and shift, but all will be subject to statutory instruments of this House. This House might, if it were to use its numbers, reject them, but the intention is to remain aligned with the EU—with existing sanctions—so that we are in harmony with it.
I will come to that in just a moment, if I may.
A sanctions Bill will enable the UK to continue to impose, update and lift sanctions in response to fast-moving events. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not be sufficient to do that, since we need powers to do more than simply preserve or freeze existing sanctions. The United Nations Act 1946 is also insufficient for UN sanctions, because in 2010, the UK Supreme Court ruled that it could not lawfully be used to implement asset freezes, and that additional powers were needed for measures of this kind involving any infringement of individual rights. In short, the sanctions Bill will enable the UK’s continued compliance with international law after we leave the EU, ensure that, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK continues to play a central role in shaping UN sanctions, and return decision-making powers on non-UN sanctions to the UK.
As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, the Bill will focus on powers, not policy. As such, it might be described as a framework Bill. It will provide powers to implement UN sanctions and to impose UK sanctions independently or in co-operation with allies. The question of how we use those powers will be addressed later, when we introduce secondary legislation applying sanctions to particular countries. We are obliged to implement UN sanctions, but we will face political choices on how far to replicate current EU sanctions.
The Bill will take account of the consultation mentioned by my hon. Friend in his opening speech. We envisage four main elements: powers to impose sanctions where justified and appropriate; powers to ensure that individuals and organisations can challenge the sanctions imposed on them; powers to exempt or license certain types of activity that would otherwise be restricted, such as humanitarian deliveries and supplies, in countries that might have been sanctioned; and powers to amend and adopt regulations for anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing.
Detailed scrutiny of the Bill can obviously come only once it is published. That is why we will have Second Reading, Committee, Report and so on, as this House always does. However, perhaps I can respond as rapidly as I can in the time I have—and I am running out of time—to some of the questions that have been asked, mainly by Opposition Front Benchers. “Where is the Bill?” was one question. We have a consultation. We have just had an election and purdah, and we need to consider the responses and then decide our final position. Only then can we publish the Bill—but we will do so. Helen Goodman asked who will lead on it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take the lead on foreign policy, including sanctions.
On the question by Jenny Chapman about whether the procedures we intend to adopt will be affirmative or negative, we note—this is very important for the efficacy of sanctions—that the delay involved with affirmative procedures can lead to asset flight before assets are frozen or caught. We are considering this issue, and will respond in our consultation response, which will be published very shortly.
I have no time; I am very sorry.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked about the overseas territories. The UK has responsibility for the external relations and national security of overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and we will continue our policy of ensuring that the overseas territories and Crown dependencies apply international and UK imposed sanctions. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is chairing regular meetings with the overseas territories and Crown dependencies on how best to achieve this end. We will include a power in the Bill for the UK to continue to legislate directly where appropriate.
It was suggested that we would lose the ability to be part of international sanctions development. I would say very clearly that I believe that we will not lose this ability. The Bill is intended to give us all the necessary powers to work internationally. We note that the UK, with its international allies, was a key player in securing the Iran nuclear deal. We will continue our constructive and productive relationship with our European and international partners after we leave the EU.
Peter Grant asked about the legal risk of the UK adopting EU sanctions—in other words, our having a separate regime and doing this individually. The UK will take responsibility for the sanctions it adopts, including taking on legal risks. When working with the EU, we will take all necessary steps, co-ordinating sanctions and sharing information, to reduce the risk, and if the risk is not acceptable, we do not have to follow the EU.
There are some other issues that we have not had the chance to discuss, but I am sure we will do so on Second Reading and in further consideration of the Bill. On civil liberties, for example, there is a very delicate balance to be struck between using sanctions to counter threats such as terrorism and respecting due process to protect the rights of individuals.
Another issue is abuses and violations of human rights as a reason to impose sanctions. The Government are firmly committed to promoting and strengthening universal human rights, and holding to account states responsible for the worst violations. Indeed, during the previous Parliament the Government amended the Criminal Finances Act 2017 to allow law enforcement agencies to use civil recovery powers to recover the proceeds of human rights abuses or violations, wherever they take place, where the property is held in the UK. We also have powers to exclude from the UK individuals whose presence is not conducive to the public good, and we operate a watch list system to support this.
We know that innocent individuals and organisations can sometimes be inadvertently affected by sanctions. We hear reports of this, for example, from humanitarian organisations delivering assistance in countries subject to sanctions. We will do everything we can to minimise these unintended consequences. We will publish guidance to make UK sanctions regimes as clear as possible to the individuals and companies affected. We will have more flexibility to issue general licences to humanitarian organisations in order to cut bureaucracy and make it much easier for them to continue operating in the most difficult of circumstances.
The Bill will be published in due course, and the response to the consultation will come out soon. I urge the House to appreciate that as we look across the world and see the dangers of terrorism and misconduct of all sorts, having an effective sanctions regime is absolutely crucial to our foreign policy and to making the world a better place. Replicating a sanctions policy once we have left the EU is absolutely essential. If we did not do that, the world would be a poorer place.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered Exiting the European Union and Sanctions.