Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:03 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 3:03 pm, 9th April 2019

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—