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

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.