We come now to the intended debate on four motions—specifically, motions 2 to 5—and I suggest that, with the leave of the House, we will debate motions 2 to 4 on Sanctions and motion 5 on Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) together. To move the first of the motions in a debate on all four, I call Sir Alan Duncan.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
That the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 135), which were laid before this House on
That the Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 134), which were laid before this House on
Motion 5—Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)—
That the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations (S.I., 2019, No. 554), which were laid before this House on
As you have said and with your permission, Mr Speaker, I think the House will appreciate it if I consider the four statutory instruments together. In speaking to the Burma (Sanctions) (EU Exit) regulations, I will also speak to the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) regulations, the Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) regulations and the Guinea-Bissau (Sanctions) (EU Exit) regulations. These regulations provide the required details of these four sanctions regimes, but they do not set out which individuals or entities will actually be sanctioned under them. In a no-deal scenario, we will publish on exit day the full list of those we are sanctioning under our UK legislation.
Hon. Members will be well aware of the importance of sanctions. They are a key element of our approach to our most important international priorities. They help to defend our national interests, support our foreign policy and protect our national security. They also demonstrate our support for the rules-based international order. The UK has been a leading contributor to the development of multilateral sanctions in recent years. We have been particularly influential in guiding the EU’s approach and, when we move the EU’s sanctions regimes to the UK in a no-deal scenario, we will carry over their policy effect. I will say more about that in just a moment.
We are committed to maintaining our sanctions capabilities and leadership role after we leave the EU. Hon. Members will recall that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the UK with the legal powers to impose, update or lift sanctions after we leave the EU. This was the first major legislative step in creating an independent UK sanctions framework.
I am pleased that the Minister has said that the EU sanctions list will, in effect, be rolled over. At this early point in his contribution, notwithstanding that we are talking about sanctions on three specific countries—plus the EU one at the end—will he give the House an assurance that there is no immediate intention to change the sanctions list from the one we will adopt from the EU?
I can confirm that there is no such intention. Indeed, the intention and the expectation is that the existing regimes in the EU sanctions regime will be lifted and shifted, and put into ours. However, having scrutinised the individual elements of these, we will have to make sure that they all meet the threshold of evidence and justification that our own autonomous Act of Parliament requires. It is possible that something may not be carried over, but the expectation is that everything will be.
The Minister mentioned the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. While we are talking about specific countries, that Bill, which is now an Act, did include the Magnitsky amendment. He referenced a list should the United Kingdom leave without a deal, and that general list would no doubt include other countries as well. In that regard, what is the current position of the Government on individuals named on a sanctions list in relation to the Magnitsky amendment, which is now part of an Act?
I say to my hon. Friend that I will come on to that in just a second. I will answer the question raised in his intervention, but let me complete the introductory logic of what these four statutory instruments are intended to do.
While the Act set out the framework needed to impose our own independent sanctions, we need statutory instruments to set out the detail of each sanctions regime within that independent framework. Such statutory instruments set out the purposes of our regimes, as well as the criteria under which the Secretary of State may designate individuals and entities within the framework, and the types of restrictive measures imposed. I am grateful to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its close and helpful scrutiny of these and other statutory instruments relating to sanctions regimes.
On the Magnitsky element of the Act of Parliament passed last year, that sanctions Act provides powers for the UK to impose sanctions to provide accountability for or to deter gross violations of human rights, and to promote compliance with international human rights law and respect for human rights. These powers are what is colloquially known as the Magnitsky amendment. The Government’s focus so far has been on ensuring that we have the necessary secondary legislation in place to continue to implement existing EU and UN sanctions should we leave the EU without a deal. The statutory instruments we are debating today are part of this preparation.
No. Let me just take my hon. Friend through this, and then he can come back again if he wishes. I need to explain quite where the Magnitsky element fits in.
As a member of the EU or during an implementation period, EU sanctions will apply in the UK. We will look to use the powers provided by the sanctions Act to the fullest extent possible during this period, but there will be some limitations on the measures that we can impose autonomously. In order to impose national sanctions for human rights—the Magnitsky element—we will need to design and draft a statutory instrument and ensure the associated processes and structures are in place to be able to implement and manage a sanctions regime.
It is important that we set up a regime correctly to ensure sanctions meet the legal tests set out in the sanctions Act. As soon as the secondary legislation and associated structures are in place to ensure the continuation of EU and UN sanctions in the UK, we will turn to the consideration of UK national sanctions, including for human rights.
The Minister is being very generous. May I ask him why not a single individual Russian is on any sanctions list at the moment? It is rather odd that the Government’s position seems to be that the justification for no Russian being on any list is that we cannot do this until we leave the European Union, despite the fact that all the Baltic states have individual Russians on a sanctions list. If we are going to remain de facto within the European Union, surely the justification for taking action is going to continue.
First, I say to my hon. Friend that this is not just against Russians. If people have violated human rights anywhere in the world, they could come within the scope of the Magnitsky clause I have been describing. I say again that the reason why we have not yet applied the Magnitsky elements of the sanctions Act is that the statutory instrument making it a bespoke part of that Act within UK autonomous law has not yet been made, and it that was done too rapidly—he will appreciate that we have had about 3,000 statutory instruments to get through this House because of EU exit—there would be a high risk of constant legal challenge, which we would like to avoid.
I am a bit confused about the Government’s attitude. The permanent under-secretary gave one reason why we could not have these sanctions in place already, the Foreign Secretary has given three different versions of why it could not happen and now the Minister has given yet another version of why it could not happen thus far. Part of it seems to be that the Government are not yet ready, which feels a bit like foot dragging to me, because I remember that the Government did not want this amendment in the first place, but the House insisted on it. The Government still seem to be arguing that we cannot do this because we are still a member of the European Union. In fact, Estonia and Lithuania have exactly those provisions, and nobody has thought to strike them down. There are 49 Russians listed in both those countries. Why can we not do it?
What the hon. Gentleman says is not consistent with our legal advice. We have to make sure that any application of the Magnitsky legislation fits legally and properly within any implementation period that might exist. It would be easier and quicker, as it happens in this case, if we were to leave with no deal—that is perhaps the only advantage of so doing that I can think of straight off the top of my head, but we will not go down that route.
Can the Minister therefore confirm—this is what I think he is saying—that all the individuals and entities currently sanctioned by the EU will remain sanctioned by the UK under these regulations? Given that the UK has less capacity than the EU collectively, what resources are being put in place to ensure that the UK continues to update the list of sanctioned individuals and groups, or will we simply mirror any updates made by the EU?
I perhaps feel a little prime ministerial when I say that I refer the right hon. Lady to the answer I gave some moments ago, but the answer is the same: our intention is to transfer the EU sanctions, but because we have our own autonomous regime, the evidential threshold must be met. Therefore, everything is being studied closely to confirm that it fits within the evidential requirements of the sanctions Act.
I did not seek to intervene, but I am happy to. I am unclear. Is the Minister saying that, where there are currently sanctioned individuals, all of them without exception will continue to be sanctioned in the event of a no-deal Brexit, or that because the evidential requirements of the UK, acting autonomously, may be different from those that apply while we are in the European Union, some of those individuals will no longer, or could no longer, be sanctioned?
As I said earlier, it is possible that, in exceptional circumstances, a person or an entity might not be transferred, but we do not expect that to be the case often, if at all. The intention is, wherever possible, to transfer the operation of the existing regime into our own autonomous legislation.
I think the Minister is saying that one reason why it will not be possible is that there are so many SIs that it is difficult to get the SI in place to deal with Magnitsky. I just wonder when he hopes the provisions will be available to the House and be able to be implemented.
All I can say is that the timeline of many things at the moment is difficult to forecast, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not attempt to say exactly.
Our American allies have a disagreement with our European allies about the extent of sanctions against Iran and how best to handle the difficulties with Iran. What thinking has the Foreign Office given to an independent UK policy on this? Are there any merits in the American approach, or are all the merits with the European approach?
If we are looking at individual cases such as that, we are straying slightly outside the terms of this debate, which is about the framework for the operation of sanctions in these four areas. We work closely with our European allies on the operation of the joint comprehensive plan of action, and we will continue to do so. However, we will of course look at all sanctions under the terms of the Act that we passed last year.
The four statutory instruments under consideration transfer into UK law the EU sanctions regimes on Burma, Venezuela, Guinea-Bissau and Iran—the human rights element of Iran, rather than the anti-nuclear side. In each case, the instruments seek to substantially mirror the measures in the corresponding EU regime, which include financial, immigration and trade measures.
These SIs were laid on a contingent basis to provide for the continuation of sanctions should we leave the EU without a deal. This would ensure that we have the necessary powers to impose sanctions on the countries in question from the date of exit. If we reach a deal, sanctions would continue to apply under EU law during any implementation period, and these SIs would not immediately be needed.
As I said at the beginning, should we leave the EU without a deal, we will publish the list of those sanctioned under these SIs and all our new sanctions SIs on exit day. We will seek to transfer EU designations in each case, but as I said earlier these decisions will be subject to the legal tests contained in the sanctions Act. Any EU listings that do not meet the tests would not then be implemented.
Hon. Members may recall that review and reporting requirements were incorporated into the sanctions Act. Hence, alongside these statutory instruments, we have published reports on the purposes of each regime and the penalties contained in them—these are known respectively as section 2 and section 18 reports. These reports, plus an explanatory memorandum for each SI, are available in the Vote Office should Members wish to read them in detail. The Government will also review each sanctions regime on a regular basis.
I would now like briefly to describe the purposes of each regime. The Burma sanctions regulations seek to encourage the Burmese security forces to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights. The corresponding EU sanctions were established in their present form in April 2018, in response to systematic human rights violations by Burmese security forces since the summer of 2017.
The EU sanctions regime designates members of the Burmese security forces who were involved in human rights violations or abuses, or in the obstruction of humanitarian assistance activity or an independent investigation into the atrocities in Burma.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He will know that, since the implementation of those sanctions, the International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into the Burmese atrocities. What does he know about the status of that investigation? Does he anticipate an increase in the sanctions on Burma when this instrument comes into effect?
Again, the purpose of this debate is not to look at the way the sanctions are working; it is merely to set up the legal framework in which they can be allowed to work under our autonomous regime.
Order. I do not think we are straying too far. I think it will help people to make up their mind and make a good judgment. Just opening the envelope a little does not take anything away from what we are trying to achieve.
I am not as keen as you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to open the envelope quite so far, because I do not actually deal with Burma. However, if Jo Stevens has a really good question on Venezuela, I can give her chapter and verse. The responsibilities of Ministers are geographical in some respects and thematic in others. As she knows, I am in charge of sanctions law, rather than the operation of all geographical sanctions. I do not want to risk in any way giving the House information that is inaccurate or ill-informed.
I would be delighted to put that obligation on him—it causes me no difficulty whatever. Of course I will do that. In Foreign Office questions and in Westminster Hall, we have many discussions about issues of that sort—indeed, I encourage them, and we like to participate in them by giving as much information as we possibly can in response to any motion moved.
In relation to the situation in Venezuela, there has obviously been massive concern on both sides of the House about the massive number of people fleeing from Venezuela to other countries in Latin America. How does the Minister feel that the sanctions regime is working now, and is it likely to produce significant change?
The answer is that we wish there was clearer evidence that they are working. I was at the meeting of European Foreign Ministers yesterday in Luxembourg, where Venezuela was the main topic over lunch. The hon. Gentleman is quite right that 3.6 million people have fled Venezuela. The latest forecast is that the collapse in Venezuela’s economy will exceed that of Zimbabwe’s economic collapse all that time ago and that it will collapse by over 25% this year. We are being very careful to make sure that we target individuals around President Maduro and President Maduro himself, rather than the people who are suffering enough. He will appreciate, as I think the whole House does, that it is a massive challenge to design sanctions that hit the right people and do not hit the wrong people, who are, as I say, suffering enough. Any brilliant ideas he has would be willingly received, but we are working very closely with the EU and the Lima Group to ensure that any properly targeted sanctions we can possibly apply will be applied at the earliest opportunity.
It is possible that we could do some things on our own and increase sanctions in that way. We have particular focus, through the City of London, on financial matters where we might have, if you like, the lead. However, it would be our wish and our intention to work in close harmony with the EU and the Lima Group of countries, the immediate neighbours of Venezuela, to make sure we all speak with one voice, rather than President Maduro being able to take advantage of there being a number of different voices around the world acting against him or commenting.
The Minister speaks very eloquently about the discussions that are currently under way. How does he feel the UK’s very important traditional leadership role in pressing for sanctions against human rights abusers would be harmed by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit?
It is a very fair question to ask whether, given the influential role we have had within the EU by being part of it, it will have a detrimental effect on the united front that sanctions offer to the world against those who need to be sanctioned. I think that because of our diplomatic network and diplomatic reach, and our dominance of financial markets through the City, instead of wanting to turn their back on us, should we leave the EU in that way members of the EU27 will still want to work with us very closely. I think we will continue to share in common the objectives we hold to bring the worst people to book through the workings of sanctions. We have made it very clear to the EU that we really hope that whatever happens we can continue to work together, hence our wish to fold existing EU sanctions regimes into our own legislation after we have left the EU. I will give way one more time and then I will just rattle on, if I may.
I am not in any way opposing the regulations, but if we are going to continue, and we should, to work closely with the EU—I agree with what the Minister said about a united front on sanctions, otherwise they are pretty useless—we need to be clearer for the EU to understand where we will just be rolling forward its sanctions and where we might be doing something different. The question has been put two or three times, but I do not think the answer is very clear. I am worried that we hear a lot less about the purpose and the way in which they will be applied. I do not see how we can be expected to make a fully informed decision when we cannot have full information about the countries in question.
I think the right hon. Lady may have misunderstood my answers. She is right that the question has been asked three times and I have answered three times, but this is not actually the moment we are announcing individual designations or decisions. What we are looking at today in the four statutory instruments is, in lay language, the framework within which any such designations can fit. I say once again, I think for the fourth or fifth time, that it is our intention to lift the EU sanctions regimes that exist at the moment and put them into our own regime once it is up and running, but we will follow the law to ensure there are no issues where we could unnecessarily be taken to court and be challenged. We will have rigorous standards, but we do not envisage our not transferring EU regimes. We do not envisage that happening very much, if at all. It would be quite rare.
I should just answer one point about whether the Foreign Office will have the resources to manage this regime. I think the answer is yes. We have increased the number of staff working on sanctions quite considerably, and we are confident that we will retain and increase the UK’s capacity and capability after Brexit.
I am very grateful to the Minister. I do not want to flog the issue, but in circumstances where there is an EU sanction proposed and it does not fit with our legislative test—that is quite right, given the framework he outlines—does he envisage those issues being brought before Parliament through a report or a ministerial statement? Will there be parliamentary engagement around that decision to not comply or follow through with the sanction that has been agreed at EU level?
I am not sure it would quite work in that way, but I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with our understanding of what we think the parliamentary engagement would be in any such decision to either list or not to list. Given that this is the early stage of our implementing the Act, I hope he can accept that as my commitment to him for the time being.
Having mentioned the Burma sanctions, the Venezuela sanctions, which we have been debating a bit, will: encourage the Venezuelan Government to abide by democratic principles, if only they would; respect human rights and the rule of law; refrain from the repression of civil society; and bring about a peaceful solution to the political crisis in Venezuela. The Iran human rights regulations are designed to encourage the Government of Iran to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights. The EU sanctions regime emerged partly in response to the Iranian Government’s treatment of protestors in demonstrations against election fraud in 2009. The EU sanctions regime targets those who have been involved in the commission of serious human rights violations or abuses in Iran. The EU sanctions regime on Guinea-Bissau was established in 2012 and targets those who played a leading role in its 2010 mutiny and 2012 coup. It is designed to curb actions that undermine the country’s peace, security or stability.
Hon. Members will note that human rights are a significant focus of the sanctions regime under consideration today. I hope I have adequately explained how the human rights element of the sanctions Act, the Magnitsky clause, will fit into the statutory instruments before us today. The four statutory instruments transfer into UK law well-established EU sanctions regimes that are in line with the UK’s foreign policy priorities. They encourage human rights compliance, the rule of law, and security and stability in very difficult environments. I re-emphasise the importance of putting them in place. If this does not happen before exit day in a no-deal scenario, the UK would not be able to continue to properly implement the measures they contain. Therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the regulations to the House.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am afraid I have taken the exact contrary interpretation to the Minister of what this debate is about. I wish to comment in detail on all four regimes, rather than go over again the debates we had on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill a year ago.
To start with Burma, I do not quite understand why the Burma sanctions are called Burma sanctions, not Myanmar sanctions. Anyway, they are called Burma sanctions. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I want to say that we agree it is right to roll over the EU sanctions. The human rights abuses perpetrated by the Myanmar regime are terrible. It is only 18 months since 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled the country, subject to an attempted genocide and systematic terror. We have debated that on several occasions but the more representations that I hear from Burma, the more it becomes clear that this is one of several problems. The Myanmar Government have simply not come to terms with the fact that they are in a multicultural, multi-ethnic country and they are perpetrating abuse in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states against several minorities.
Fundamentally, we want to see the implementation of the Annan commission’s recommendations on citizenship law. There will be elections in 2020, so there is not much time for that. On sanctions, when the Minister or the Foreign Office come to look at how an independent British regime might operate, we would suggest strengthening of two kinds—first, by extending the trade sanctions to the significant part of the Myanmar economy that is controlled by the military, and secondly, by introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions for key military figures, including, in particular, Min Aung Hlaing and Maung Soe.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that until the fact that the Tatmadaw retains a fixed percentage of the Parliament is addressed, we will see continuing oppression from the military, because it has such control over the rest of Government?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. One of the general problems has been that we were so pleased to see some reform in the country that we were not tough enough and sharp enough about what was going on.
On Venezuela, too, we agree that it is right to roll over the EU sanctions. The record of the Maduro Government since the collapse of the oil price has been one of significant and serious human rights abuses. As the Minister said, the fact that 3.6 million people have left the country and that we have starvation and medicine shortages is extremely serious. It is shocking to see that food aid has been blocked at the Colombian border. The first speech that I made when I was given this portfolio was in September 2017, and I condemned then the closing down of the legitimate National Assembly and the setting up of the fake constitutional Assembly. The elections in May 2018 were not free or fair. Political opponents have been jailed. There are reports that people who are in prison are being tortured. The National Assembly leader, Juan Guaidó, has been stripped of political immunity. We believe that 40 people have been killed in protests since the beginning of this year. All of that is unacceptable and reasonable justification for the continuation of sanctions.
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend just said. Is there not a further reason why this is not just a matter of Venezuela putting its own house in order? The truth is that the Colombian peace process will manage to move forward only if it does not have 1.5 million or 2 million people crossing the border and destabilising a process on which it was already difficult to get traction.
That is true as well. I was going to go on to say what, more positively, we would like to see. We would like to see free elections. We support the position of the Lima group of neighbouring countries, and we want to see dialogue between the parties who are in conflict in the country.
On the Lima group, what pressure does the hon. Lady think that we can all bring to bear on Mexico? President Obrador has, very regretfully, withdrawn from the Lima group. We have invested a lot in relations with Mexico and we have good relations with it, but he really must come back and play a leading role in the Lima group.
It would not be helpful to go along with American calls for, or the suggestion that there might be, military intervention. I suspect, although I do not know because I have not discussed this with the Mexican embassy, that Mexico was reacting adversely to the hints that were being given by the American Government in the last few weeks.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister specifically on the sanctions, but he might need to write to me, because I think that the way in which the debate works means that he does not get another go at the Dispatch Box. May I seek your guidance, Mr Deputy Speaker? Does the Minister get another opportunity to speak in this debate?
Sure. If we have time, we will allow him to come back—of course we will—but it is in your hands as well.
I am very grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
First, why was £80,000-worth of weapons material, which could be used for internal repression, authorised by the Government in 2016-17? That seems to be a breach of the current sanctions regime. [Interruption.] To Venezuela. Secondly, we do not believe that the oil sanctions that have been imposed by the Americans have been helpful in the current situation. This is precisely the point that hon. Members made earlier: the object of the sanctions should be to punish the politicians who are in charge of creating a bad situation and not the whole population.
I also want to ask the Minister about the gold that the Bank of England holds for the central bank of Venezuela. It was reported in November last year, before the Government had recognised Juan Guaidó as the leader of Venezuela, that the Bank of England had frozen 1,125 gold bars. I asked Her Majesty’s Treasury through a written parliamentary question what the legal basis for that was. It told me that it was a matter for the Bank of England, so I wrote to the Governor to ask what the legal basis for the decision was and his response was somewhat opaque. I have read suggestions in the press that the American Government put pressure on the British Government, who leant on the Bank of England directly not to release these gold bars when the bank of Venezuela requested them. I would like to know from the Minister whether that is true.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because this deserves an immediate answer. The Foreign Office has not at any stage put any such pressure on the Bank of England. Any decision about whether or not to transfer gold that it holds is entirely a matter for the Bank of England, and it does so without political pressure from us.
I am interested to hear the Minister’s response, because if the Government wish to tighten the sanctions regime, he and the Foreign Office will have the opportunity to do so, and they might well succeed in that. However, what is not acceptable is pursuing a tighter policy without a clear legal base; I suggest that that would not do much for our reputation.
I want to pick up on the point that was made about Iran by John Redwood. EU sanctions were introduced in the case of Iran in 2011, in response to violent crackdowns against street protests. In view of the continued serious human rights abuses in Iran—notably, extensive use of the death penalty, including for juveniles; torture; the repression of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender activists; and the detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe three years ago and the denial to her of access to medical treatment—we believe that these sanctions are justified. They cover in particular goods and technology used for repression, and we believe that that is right.
However, we believe that the American decision to lift the trade sanctions against Iran, which was taken as part of the international community’s joint comprehensive plan of action—JCPOA—nuclear deal, was also right. Sanctions have been an effective tool and they will continue to be effective if we impose them when things go badly and lift them when things go better. The Trump Administration’s decision to reimpose those trade sanctions and to withdraw from the JCPOA is mistaken. The JCPOA does not cover ballistic missiles or regional aggression—the arguments the Trump Administration put forward for reimposing sanctions. The decision further destabilises the region. That is a problem in foreign policy terms—it is unhelpful.
I would also be interested to know what the Government have done about the impact on European and British businesses and banks. Our businesses and banks are in an extremely difficult situation, whereby trade and investment under European law is completely legal, but under American law is completely illegal. There is an extraterritoriality effect of American law. I therefore have two questions for the Minister. First, will he hold to the current position in a post-Brexit scenario and not shift to the American position? Secondly, what has been, is and will be Government action to support British businesses and banks that wish to trade with and invest in Iran?
Finally, I come to Guinea-Bissau. The European Union imposed sanctions, which cover 20 individuals, in 2012 following an attempted coup. Guinea-Bissau is an extremely poor country with a lot of cocaine trafficked through it. There were some elections in March, and I ask the Minister what the Government are doing to improve governance in Guinea-Bissau. What are they doing to reduce drug trafficking via Guinea-Bissau? Does the Minister anticipate the UN Security Council changing its posture on sanctions?
The hon. Lady has made a powerful case about the things we are trying to put right in the countries we are discussing through sanctions, but it is worrying that they have been in place for a long time and not a lot of favourable change has occurred. Does she see any way of strengthening what we do once we have our own policy? We all share the aim of trying to improve Venezuela and Iran.
The hon. Lady made the point about extraterritoriality, but the UK Government, at the same time as introducing the statutory instruments, are rolling over the EC blocking regulation into UK legislation to stop UK citizens being subject to US extraterritoriality. I think that that is sensible, notwithstanding my worries about where they might go in future. May I check, given what the hon. Lady said, what Labour’s position is? Does the Labour party believe that tying the statutory instruments with rolling over the blocking regulation makes sense, or would it do something different?
There was a lot of conversation about having some euro vehicles to facilitate trade and investment from Britain and the other European countries and I do not quite know why that has run into the sand. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us.
Let me come back to the general question that the right hon. Member for Wokingham raised, because it is important. One the one hand, everybody can have their idea of the perfect sanctions regime to get the particular policy objective they want. The problem with that lone ranger approach is that shared regimes are needed for sanctions to be effective. The statutory instruments cover sanctions that were introduced at European level. The European Union is a large, significant group of countries that can have a significant impact when it imposes sanctions. Separately from that, we have legal obligations to impose any sanctions that are agreed at UN level. Because of the difficulty of doing anything that works, I want to know from the Minister how he intends to co-ordinate and co-operate in a post-Brexit world.
From the perspective of British business, there is already an awkwardness if the European regimes are not absolutely in line with the American regime, and a proliferation of different legal regimes would cause significant problems for British banks and businesses. I therefore personally do not believe that that is the right route to follow, so I come back to a question that I asked the Minister during the passage of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. If he would like to intervene again, will he explain to the House how the Government intend to co-ordinate and co-operate with other European countries on sanctions policy post Brexit?
I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, including attendance at the annual Iran Freedom rally in Paris. I speak in support of the statutory instrument to carry over the Iran sanctions regime. I urge hon. Members to support it to enable those sanctions to remain in place.
Sadly, abuse of human rights has been prevalent in Iran for many years. I was deeply saddened to learn that one of my constituents lost his wife in the mass killings that took place in 1988. Iran still has one of the worst human rights records in the world. As we have heard, it executes more people than almost any other country and it is estimated that as many as 273 people were executed in 2018. Despite vocal international condemnation, Iran continues to execute children.
Press freedom is heavily constrained in Iran and many journalists and bloggers have been jailed. Reporters without Borders described the country as
“the Middle East’s biggest prison for journalists.”
Gay men face the death penalty and there was widespread revulsion in the international community when a gay teenager, Hassan Afshar, was executed in August 2016.
Women routinely face sanctions if they fail to observe Iran’s compulsory dress code. Married women cannot travel abroad without their husband’s permission, their rights in relation to divorce are heavily limited, and they can be sentenced to death by stoning.
Religious minorities such as Christians, Baha’is, Jews and Sunni Muslims are subject to discrimination and significant constraints on their ability to practise their faith. For example, many members of the Baha’i faith have been subject to unwarranted arrest and imprisonment.
President Rouhani was hailed as a moderate when he was elected, but I am afraid that the human rights situation has worsened under his leadership. At least 30 people were killed and more than 4,900 arrested in protests between December 2017 and January 2018. Those demonstrations illustrate the discontent many feel about the regime and the frustrations about the severe economic hardship that many are suffering. I note the work of the National Council for Resistance of Iran in making the case for democracy, freedom and reform.
It is not just at home that Iran’s theocratic regime does great harm. Its malign involvement in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Gaza is a cause for grave concern. The United States Vice-President, Mike Pence, described Iran as
“the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”.
It has engaged in a massive arms build-up in Syria and Lebanon, where it is stockpiling thousands of missiles. Hezbollah’s arsenal of short and medium-range rockets supplied by Iran is now estimated at 150,000, and there are believed to be more than 10,000 Iran-linked militia fighters in Syria. In Gaza, the terror group Hamas has boasted about the support that it receives from Iran. The regime continues to help al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iran is believed to be responsible for multiple cyber-attacks on UK institutions, including what was described as a brute force attack on this Parliament.
I hope that the House will note the decision by the US Administration a few days ago to designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation. A Government spokesman in Washington explained that the step had been taken because the IRGC
“actively participates in, finances and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”
My right hon. Friend has rightly outlined the malevolent influence of Iran across the world, including Europe. Does she agree that Iran must stop exporting terror to European capitals such as Vienna, Paris and Tirana, among many others? If it were not for the security services of the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Union and the Israelis, many other people would have sadly died.
My hon. Friend, who is very well informed about these matters, makes an entirely valid point about the involvement of Iran in terror plots in this country and the rest of Europe. We should never even think of loosening the sanctions regime unless we have real clarity and certainty that that will come to an end.
In her powerful speech, my right hon. Friend referred to the nefarious activities of Iran throughout the middle east. There have also been allegations that it has been meddling in Bahrain’s internal affairs.
That is a serious problem. Iran is the single biggest threat to stability in the whole region, and it is concerning to hear from my hon. Friend that that extends to Bahrain as well.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point that further strengthens the case for supporting the continued imposition of sanctions on this brutal regime.
The IRGC and its notorious al-Quds force are responsible for multiple human rights abuses both in and outside Iran. I hope that our Government will consider following the example set by Washington and list the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.
I believe that there is the strongest of cases for retaining the sanctions regime against the Government of Iran. There is arguably a case for making it tougher, and reversing some of the changes that were made to relax the regime after the nuclear deal was agreed. The regime of the mullahs in Iran is responsible for horrific human rights abuses, it is a major sponsor of terrorism, and its involvement in conflicts around the middle east and beyond, as we have heard, make it the biggest single cause of regional instability. It is an evil regime.
I hope very much that one day we will see reform and change in Iran, so that the people there can live in freedom and democracy in a society based on equality and respect for their human rights. I commend the motion to the House.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I support all the motions, because it is important that the sanctions that have been in place through the good offices of the European Union continue, at least in the immediate future. It would be a serious mistake for there to be seen to be any weakening of the United Kingdom’s commitment to use its economic powers to encourage, persuade and, if need be, apply intense pressure to Governments overseas to comply with the simple, basic principles of human rights.
Obviously, we would much prefer these decisions to continue to be made in full partnership with the European Union. Even if we reach a stage when they are not, in practice it will be very difficult for the United Kingdom to depart significantly from the policies pursued by the EU. If we try to impose sanctions that it does not impose, all that will happen is that the trade will be displaced to the much bigger economic power that is the EU. It is clear that if we do not adopt sanctions that significantly depart from those applied by either the EU or any other major economic power, there will be a danger that we ourselves will be sanctioned, having been accused of sanctions-busting. Notwithstanding the triumphalism about the fact that we can now have our own independent sanctions regime, the reality is that sanctions regimes must be co-ordinated by a wide range of countries and economic entities, because otherwise they simply will not work.
Before I deal with the specifics, let me say that the general principle that we would adopt is that sanctions should be targeted at the cause of the problem, and not at the victims. They should be targeted at senior figures in Governments, in the military and in corrupt businesses. People who are making money out of human rights abuses should find it extremely difficult to gain the benefits of that money. We therefore support the principles of asset-freezing, travel bans and bans from participating in contracts with UK businesses. We should target sanctions at those who cause the problems, while, as far as possible, trying to avoid making the plight of people in these countries even worse than it already is.
Let me deal first with Burma/Myanmar. There has clearly been an extremely disappointing change from what we all expected. During those heady days when Aung San Suu Kyi was released from prison, it looked as if the country would be able to retake its place as a democratic society, but since then it has all gone horribly wrong. In particular, the persecution of the Rohingya makes it clear that significant groups in Myanmar’s population are simply not recognised as citizens, and denial of citizenship effectively means denial of humanity. I know that I am not the only one who was seriously disappointed by the President’s complete failure to take any action, and her apparent inability, or unwillingness, to clamp down on what has properly been described as a genocide committed by her armed forces against her own people.
In Venezuela, we are also seeing a serious and worrying deterioration in standards of democracy, and the unwillingness of the rulers—whether recognised or not—to uphold the rule of law and principles of human rights. We support the fact that the sanctions will target arms sales as well as individuals who are known to be personally responsible for the most serious violations of human rights. However, we cannot support the heavy-handed United States-style sanctions which appear to have been designed to punish people simply for being Venezuelans. I find it hard to avoid the suspicion that they are Trump’s revenge on the people of Venezuela for exercising their democratic right to choose a Government who happen to be openly critical of the United States. It is important for us to recognise the rights of people in other countries to choose their own Governments, even if we disagree with them.
It must be said that it has not been among the finest moments of this Government when Members have openly cheered with delight the news that people in Venezuela have been facing starvation, simply because that starvation has been caused by failed policies that could then be thrown back at the Leader of the Opposition. To make cheap political points out of human misery—
Can the hon. Gentleman give an example of anyone in this House “cheering with delight” when people in Venezuela are starving? Let him give me one example. That was an outrageous comment.
I shall be happy to get back to the hon. Gentleman, but if he is saying that there has never been a time when a Conservative Front Bencher has made fun of the Leader of the Opposition for the failure of the Chávez economic project and been met by cheers from Conservative Members, all that he needs to do is check the record. I am happy to do it for him if he cannot be bothered to do it himself.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. An accusation—a very serious accusation—has been made by the hon. Gentleman about the Government Front Bench, and, indeed, about Conservative Back Benchers: that we have gloated at the suffering of the people of Venezuela. If he is going to make such a statement—an outrageous statement—he should at least back it up with evidence, or withdraw it.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has made the point that he wished to make.
I refer the hon. Gentleman, courteously but firmly, to the speech I made at Chatham House outlining what I believe to have been the real reasons over the past 30 years for the collapse of the Venezuelan economy. It was an attempt to be as impartial and intellectual as possible. I think that he should withdraw the suggestion that we have no concern for the people of Venezuela, as that is what motivates our entire policy, which I am pleased to say is very much a cross-party policy, and it is one that he should support rather than criticise.
I stand absolutely by my statement that there have been occasions in this House when Members on the Government Benches have used the failure of the economic policies of the Chávez Government as a direct jibe against the Leader of the Opposition, and those comments have been welcomed on the Conservative Benches. [Interruption.] I will now move on.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman may well wish to move on, but he has just changed what he originally said. Can you inform the House how we can stop the Scottish National party making these wild accusations and get the hon. Gentleman either to substantiate his wild claims or to apologise to the House?
The right hon. Gentleman has put forward his view and corrected the statement. The fact is that it is up the hon. Gentleman to decide whether to withdraw the comment; he has chosen not to and he wishes to carry on.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will move on to the plight of Guinea-Bissau, which we have heard described as one of the world’s poorest countries. It is not actually a poor country. If we look at the value of drugs trafficked through that country each year, we see that the GDP per person is massive. Unfortunately, that money comes from a trade that causes havoc and distress everywhere else. Guinea-Bissau is ranked 178th out of 188 countries according to the UN human development scale, making it one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. The average male life expectancy is now just 47 years, in a country that was once seen as a beacon for the future of African development. It has been beset by attempted military coup after attempted military coup; almost no Head of Government has held office for more than a few years before being removed, sometimes forcibly.
The European Union, with the United Kingdom’s support, has made strenuous and sustained attempts to help Guinea-Bissau sort out its economic and governance problems, but all too often those efforts have had to be abandoned because it was simply not possible to ensure that aid was going to the correct people and places, because governance had collapsed to such a degree. That is particularly tragic for a country that is already one of the poorest in the world. It is impossible to apply sanctions that do not have some knock-on effect on citizens, but we have to support the imposition and continuation of those sanctions. The sanctions themselves are not enough. They are a necessary part of what has to be a much more concerted and ongoing attempt to give the 2 million people living in Guinea-Bissau at least a decent standard of living. In the 21st century, we do not want to see life expectancy continue to be just 47 years.
I fully support many of the comments that have been made about Iran. Not that long ago, there seemed to be grounds for optimism. It looked as through that country was moving towards greater openness and democracy, with participation by all citizens, but over the past few years the situation has gone backwards very severely indeed. Iran has now gone back to the old days on human rights abuses, some of which have just been catalogued for us. We know of the desperate plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has now been in prison in Iran for a number of years, and her treatment there has been utterly shocking. We can only guess at the plight of who knows how many other Iranian citizens who do not have Members of Parliament or Government Ministers, either here or elsewhere, to speak on their behalf. It is worth remembering, however, that until the 1970s Iran had a brutal dictator with whom the United Kingdom was quite happy to trade.
I want to finish by saying that although we support the use of economic sanctions in these countries, there are other countries with similarly appalling human rights records but for which to date there has been no suggestion that sanctions will be applied. [Interruption.] Mark Pritchard can chunter away from a sedentary position, but I am not making a party political point, because this has been a characteristic of successive Governments of all parties. Saudi Arabia has the death penalty for homo- sexuality, yet the United Kingdom trades arms with that country. Israel, according to the UK Government, is in breach of international law, yet there is no proposal for sanctions against the Government of Israel.
Order. These other countries are not part of the debate. I have allowed the debate to be opened up a little, but I cannot allow us to go on a world tour.
I conclude simply by saying that we support the continued imposition of economic sanctions against those countries that would oppress their citizens and deny basic human rights to the citizens of Myanmar, Venezuela, Guinea-Bissau and Iran. We would also like to see the UK Government applying similar sanctions and restrictions on those who oppress their citizens in other countries with which the United Kingdom seems quite happy to trade arms by the billion.
I rise to support the Government’s statutory instrument on sanctions on Venezuela. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Latin America, and as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy for a number of countries, including Colombia, I have seen at first hand the brutality and human rights abuses that the Maduro regime has inflicted on its own citizens. Some 3.6 million of them have now fled, largely to Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. I have visited all those countries over the past 12 months and seen at first hand people living in abject poverty.
I take real exception to the claim made by Peter Grant that Conservative Members have in some way celebrated the misery of the Venezuelan people and the human rights abuses taking place in that country, which is a grotesque and untrue allegation. It is grotesque and untrue because Members on the Government side of the House know the need for this sanctions regime—
Order. I think that the point has been made, but we need to get back to the debate. A very good point has been hammered home, but we now need to move on.
Let us move on with the need for sanctions against Venezuela. That regime has not entered hardship as a result of the oil price collapse; it has entered hardship because, not just under Maduro but under Chávez—[Interruption.] Helen Goodman shakes her head, as though it is all down to the oil price collapse. It is not; it is down to the fact that Maduro and Chávez played fast and loose with the constitution. They both abused their positions in order to suppress opposition, including within the press. To suggest that all this misery has been brought about by the oil price collapse is to be economical with the actualité.
Is it not a fact that the richest person in Venezuela is the daughter of former President Hugo Chávez, a billionaire with about $4 billion US dollars, which has been systematically stolen from the people by this so-called socialist regime?
In support of my hon. Friend’s case, has he noticed that this is shown not just in the oil price, but in the volume of oil produced, because they so trashed their industry and failed to invest in it that it now produces a fraction of its potential capacity? That is why Venezuela is so poor.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only has the volume of oil produced collapsed, but many of the oil workers who would have produced the oil have fled the regime. Their families are living in absolute penury as a result of years of neglect and economic mismanagement. Mike Gapes was quite right to point out the extreme wealth that is being accumulated corruptly by members of the Chávez and Maduro regimes and by the military. Much of that money is offshored, including vast amounts in Spain. This is not a new phenomenon: for many years, the property market in some areas of Madrid was red hot with money that was flowing out of Venezuela and being used to buy office blocks and residential properties galore in order to cleanse the money out of Venezuela.
Any robust sanctions regime should not only ensure that money is prevented from leaving the country now but take into account the money that has been leaving for years, including at massive rates under Chávez. [Interruption.] That is clearly uncomfortable for the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, but that money was stolen from the people of Venezuela and it needs to be taken back in as part of any sanctions regime. [Interruption.] If we are talking about laughter, we have seen great amount of laughter from the hon. Lady. This is either something she finds funny or something that she fails to understand.
Order. May I just remind the House that we have quite a lot of other speakers?
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hear your guidance and I know that there is much pressure on our time.
I encourage the Government to enact this statutory instrument on sanctions for Venezuela and to ensure that, while we are still a member of the EU and while we have reach through the United Nations, we ensure that the sanctions regime targets those in the military and the senior members of the Maduro and Chávez regimes who have stolen billions from Venezuela, in order to get that money back to the people where it belongs.
Absolutely. That point stands well on its own.
This should be an opportunity for the House to come together and send a message of solidarity to Juan Guaidó and the democratically elected members of the Congress, which Maduro has now sought to supersede with his own puppet arrangements. The suffering in Venezuela is something that no one should ever have to experience, and any sanctions must be clearly targeted on the instigators of this corrupt regime.
The main issue that we are considering this afternoon is what our independent system of sanctions will be like if and when we leave the European Union. That is the key point. I must confess that I am somewhat sceptical about the value of having an independent sanctions regime, because the whole point of sanctions is that when we work in concert with our closest allies, we are far more likely to achieve success than if we simply try to go it alone. This is nowhere writ more large than in relation to Russia.
For many years, individual countries of the European Union resisted adopting a shared sanctions regime in relation to Russia because some countries wanted to continue to take gas and oil from Russia, some wanted a strong political relationship with it, and Mr Berlusconi in Italy wanted to go to parties with President Putin. It was difficult for us to achieve a shared sanctions regime in relation to Russia. Indeed, it was only when Russia started using gas and oil as a means of oppressing Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia that the European Union decided to act in concert. The UK then went to European Council meetings where Prime Minister Cameron and then our present Prime Minister repeatedly said, “It’s been great, we’ve been able to persuade the European Union to adopt the sanctions that we wanted.” As a united body in Europe, we have been able to achieve far more than the United Kingdom will be able to if we go it alone.
I welcome the Minister’s comments that in the future we will, in the main, adopt the same kind of measures that the European Union adopts. My anxiety is that it might be difficult for us outside the European Union, unless there is some manner of working with the EU, to persuade it to adopt the kind of sanctions regime that we are interested in.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is always worth hearing him on these subjects. I would simply point out that it is not all sweetness and light. For example, the Germans’ behaviour over Nord Stream 2 is going to break the whole sanctions regime, yet nothing seems to happen from the Commission.
The right hon. Gentleman has virtually stolen the words out of my mouth. He is absolutely right, but my anxiety is that when we are no longer in that room, it is going to be much more difficult for the UK to secure the outcome that we want in relation to Nord Stream 2. I hope that the Government will manage to find some means of establishing a strong relationship with the European Union in that regard.
I also worry about the Magnitsky process. I hear what the Minister is saying, but I have heard two Ministers speak on this subject since the House unanimously passed measures that the Government did not really want to include in the legislation—[Interruption.] I know that the Minister put them in in the end, but I am not sure that he was the most enthusiastic Member to adopt them. He can puff out his chest as much as he wants, but he is still not going to persuade me that he was quite there with the rest of us. The point is that we still do not have those measures in place. As he has referred to the Magnitsky process, I hope that we will now manage to sort this out very quickly, not least because Bill Browder has today been told that the Russians intend to press a seventh charge with Interpol—
Order. I did say that we could open the envelope, but I did not mean that we had to open every page of what was inside. Today’s debate is not about Russia. I have allowed a little bit of movement, but we need to get a lot more speakers in.
You are quite right, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am very close to finishing.
In making my last point, about Venezuela, I want to defend my hon. Friend Helen Goodman. Mark Menzies and I agree on nearly every aspect of our relationship with many different countries in Latin America, including Venezuela. That country is perpetuating poverty for its people and its politicians have completely let the people down. They are also risking civil war and war across the whole Andean region, which is dangerous. However, in all honesty, my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland was agreeing with the hon. Gentleman, not disagreeing with him, so I very much hope that they will kiss and make up later. With that, I shall finish.
I shall be brief, and I shall not take interventions, because others wish to speak. It is disappointing that these orders do not have this week’s date on them. We have let the public down once over leaving the EU on
I want us to have a more ambitious foreign policy once we are an independent country again. There is a huge opportunity here for us to do good in the world by promoting the right kind of sanctions policy. I agree with all those colleagues who say that sanctions are more effective if we get more countries to buy into them. There are a number of areas, most notably Iran, where our US ally is very much at variance with our European allies, and that is surely where the United Kingdom—by adopting a distinctive approach and perhaps working more directly through the United Nations, freed of the constraint of belonging to one side in the two-sided row—could make a direct contribution, influence the world for the better and create a more united sanctions regime.
There are those who are very worried about sanctions targeting the wrong people. Of course it is best to target the guilty men and women at the top of evil regimes, but we need to recognise that they need access to hard currency. It is often by exploiting commodities or other hard currency generators in their economies that they perpetuate their evil and buy the things we do not want to sell them from others around the world who will. It is not easy to target just a limited number of people, so we have to find our way through.
I hope we can do that with Venezuela, where we need to back all the initiatives to try to get food and other aid in and to support the forces for democracy. Above all, we need to work with the opposition in Venezuela to show how they could restore their economy with the colossal oil wealth that is there beneath their feet but is deliberately not exploited by the evil incompetents of the regime. Let us have our own policy, and let us get on with it.
This debate is probably unnecessary, because we have not yet left the European Union and we almost certainly will not leave with no deal if we do leave, so many of the things we are debating will be dealt with over a long period in transitional arrangements, or not at all. However, given that the House is spending a great deal of time at the moment debating things that are not about to happen, that is par for the course.
In January, I asked an urgent question about Venezuela and there was extensive discussion. The situation has got worse since then. There are now serious threats to Juan Guaidó, the president of the National Assembly and the person who is recognised by many countries and Governments, including our own, as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.
I was pleased that the Opposition spokesperson, Helen Goodman, used the phrase, “We welcome this sanctions proposal.” I hope she was referring not just to “we” in general but specifically to the shadow Justice Secretary, the shadow Home Secretary, the shadow International Development Secretary—he sits alongside her—the Leader of the Opposition and all those who have been apologists for or supporters of the Chávez and Maduro regimes. I hope she was referring to members of the Venezuela solidarity campaign, members of the Stop the War Coalition and all those organising rallies and events today to say, “Hands off Venezuela.” I hope she was referring to all those who are acting in this country to undermine the sanctions regime and the action being taken by the Bank of England and others against the corrupt, kleptocratic regime in that country. I praise her for what she said—I have no disagreement with her at all—but I hope she was speaking for everybody on the Labour Benches in that respect.
We need to discuss the wider question of the impact of sanctions. What is the purpose of sanctions? Is it to change the behaviour of a regime or to bring about some kind of punishment for bad people? Punishing bad people is a good idea, but a better idea is to change the behaviour of the regime so the people in the country benefit. We know from history that sanctions regimes are often not successful in changing Governments’ behaviour.
It could be argued that the Iranian regime has changed its behaviour and signed up to the JCPOA in respect of its nuclear programme because of the sanctions imposed on it, and that is at least partially true. However, a bigger reason for that change in behaviour might be that the regime has adopted a long-term view and, thinking 10, 15 or 20 years ahead, wants to take the heat off now while secretly doing what it did in the past with covert facilities at Qom and various other programmes to get around those international sanctions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Iran’s desire to wipe out the state of Israel is based on an ideological hatred? Iran and Israel are a thousand miles apart. They have no regional material competition, nor does Israel have any significant effect on the lives of Iranian citizens. In the long term, sanctions against an ideological regime are unlikely to succeed.
Iran was sanctioned not for its generalised foreign policy, or for its abuse of human rights internally, or for the terrible things it has done to support the murderous Assad regime in Syria, or for what it has done in respect of the situation in Lebanon, or for what it is doing to support the Houthis in Yemen, or for its hostility to and visceral hatred of the idea of self-determination for the Jewish people and the state of Israel, but for its nuclear programme. There may be arguments for extending sanctions on Iran, but we have to recognise that, so far, this is about the current sanctions regime.
Chris Bryant is right that successive British Governments have played an important role when other Governments wobbled, or when other Governments, such as the Hungarian Orbán Government or the Italian Government—he mentioned Berlusconi, but the current Salvini Government are doing the same thing—have been complicit in being friendly to the aspirations of Putin in weakening sanctions regimes. We have stood firm, and we, France and a few others have led the way on tough sanctions.
Sometimes our EU partners have been divided and we have tipped the scales towards a more robust regime. If we are outside the European Union, that EU regime is likely to be weaker than it would otherwise have been. We would also find ourselves facing all the economic problems that come from being outside the EU, and we would be susceptible to pressure from other countries to go soft on sanctions because we would not have the collective weight of the European Union behind us.
I want to let the Minister wind up, so this is a perfect time for you to come back into the Chamber, Mr Speaker, and for me to talk about Burma for just one minute, because I know it is dear to your heart.
We are obviously still concerned about oppression in Rakhine, Karen, Shan and all the other ethnic states. Everyone welcomes the ceasefires called by the military since last year, but there are still concerns that those ceasefires allow the military to build up its defences and militarise areas of those ethnic states.
In my role as trade envoy, I am only too aware that there is a holistic approach. I am glad the Minister talked about targeted sanctions, because for the ordinary people who are being oppressed, persecuted, raped, mutilated and killed, we know that the only way through this, apart from our action with the international community, is through growth and prosperity. We must give them that growth and prosperity through trade, support and infrastructure building, which is why we need to target the sanctions at the military. Let us make sure that we do not leave the ordinary people of Burma behind in a fuller set of sanctions.
I am vice-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Venezuela.
If we ever manage to leave the EU, one benefit will be greater flexibility on our application of sanctions to countries acting outside the law and actively persecuting their own people, such as Maduro’s Venezuela. We already have some flexibility, but the UK will have much more if we leave the EU properly, although we will still be able to choose to align with the EU when it is not held back by the particular concerns of one or two member states.
Beyond the statutory instrument, one direct action the UK could take right now to demonstrate its determination to tackle the massive theft of funds from Venezuela by corrupt Chavistas would be to declare Maduro’s ambassador to the United Kingdom persona non grata on account of the arrest warrant issued against her by the state of Andorra for the theft of $4 million. The details of the case are well known to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, not least through me, and have appeared in El País as well as in official documents.
The suffering of the Venezuelan people is immense, and my words can hardly do it justice. We have heard others capably underline the shame of the very senior leadership of the Labour party and its active support for the Maduro regime, including entertaining its mouth- pieces on our soil.
I know Venezuela is not a Foreign Office priority, but the Government need to do more to help bring democracy back to that wonderful country, and the statutory instrument is a step in the right direction. I welcome recent comments by the Minister in that direction, but I think more can be done. Action towards the ambassador would also help.
I am grateful to hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions, which spread quite widely but show the passions raised by this topic.
I take my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer to task for saying that Venezuela is not a Foreign Office priority, which I find difficult to swallow, to put it politely, when it is very much a priority. I went to the United Nations Security Council, at a few hours’ notice, for an emergency debate, and I went to the Ottawa meeting of the Lima group. I spoke yesterday at the meeting of European Foreign Ministers, and I have given a considered lecture on Venezuela at Chatham House. So I would politely ask him to revise his view of where he thinks our priorities sit.
On the issue raised by my hon. Friend Mike Freer, the IRGC is already sanctioned by the EU, but it comes under the EU’s Iran nuclear sanctions, rather than the ones that we are discussing today. When it comes to giving notice of who we might include in any EU sanctions that are transferred—
Stick to 3.40 pm and you will be all right.
We will do that at the eleventh hour, as it were, to avoid asset flight by not giving prior notice to those who might be affected. As I said, the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 enables sanctions to be imposed for a variety of purposes, including responding to or deterring gross violations of human rights, or otherwise promoting compliance with human rights law or respect for human rights. After we transpose existing EU sanctions regimes into UK law—that must be the first priority—the UK will continue to take action against human rights violators and abusers. There is already a strong human rights element in all our sanctions. [Interruption.] Do I take it, Mr Speaker, that you are urging me to speed up?
In which case, having covered so much already, I commend these regulations to the House.
One and a half hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Speaker put the Question (
Question agreed to.
That the Burma (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 136), which were laid before this House on