– in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 29th April 2019.
With the leave of the House, we will debate motions 1 to 4 together.
I beg to move motion 1,
That the Chemical Weapons (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 618), which were laid before this House on
With this we shall consider the following:
Motion 2—Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) (Zimbabwe)—
That the Zimbabwe (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 604), which were laid before this House on
Motion 3—Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) (Republic of Belarus)—
That the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 600), which were laid before this House on
Motion 4—Exiting the European Union (Sanctions) (Syria)—
That the Syria (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 792), which were laid before this House on
Right hon. and hon. Members will be well aware of the importance of sanctions, which 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, which is why, when we transpose the EU sanctions regimes to the UK, we intend to carry over its policy effect. I will say more about that in a moment.
We are committed to maintaining our sanctions capabilities and leadership role after we leave the EU. Colleagues will recall that the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the UK with the legal powers to impose, update and lift sanctions after we leave the EU. This was the first major legislative step in creating an independent UK sanctions framework.
However, although the Act sets 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 framework. Such statutory instruments set out the purposes of our sanctions regimes, the criteria under which the Secretary of State may designate individuals and entities and the types of restrictive measures imposed. They do not specify which individuals or entities will be sanctioned. The Government will publish the list of those we are sanctioning under UK legislation when the prohibitions come into force. We will seek to transfer EU designations in each case, but those decisions will be subject to the legal tests set out in the Act. Any EU listings that do not meet the tests will not be implemented.
Although we will become “independent”, in that sense of the word, in relation to sanctions, how does the Minister propose to co-operate with other countries? Is there a mechanism for the Government to do that, so that we can control chemical weapons?
If we leave the EU with a deal, there will be a period of transition in which we will retain our sanctions under the existing EU system. If we leave with no deal, which is what we are addressing today, we will need to trigger our autonomous right to have sanctions. Therefore, we need these statutory instruments. I am sure that in the event that we are not part of the EU, our leadership on sanctions and the fact that the City of London is such an important financial centre for money laundering—[Laughter.] For anti-money laundering. It will mean that we retain our pre-eminent role in influencing sanctions, as we have in the past.
The House may recall that review and reporting requirements were incorporated into the 2018 Act. We have therefore published alongside these statutory instruments a report on the purposes of each sanctions regime, and on the penalties contained within each instrument. Those reports are available in the Vote Office, should Members have an interest in them, and the Government will review each sanctions regime on a regular basis. I wish to thank the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments for its close and helpful scrutiny of so many statutory instruments relating to sanctions over recent months.
The four SIs under consideration are those that transfer into UK law the EU sanctions regimes on chemical weapons, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Syria. In each case, the instrument seeks to deliver substantially the same policy effects as the measures in the corresponding EU regime. Hon. Members will note that human rights are a significant focus of some of the sanctions regimes under consideration today. I know that many hon. Members are keen for the UK to develop our own stand-alone human rights sanctions regime under the 2018 Act and may therefore query why we are simply transferring existing EU sanctions regimes.
Obviously the sanctions are there for the purpose of suggesting change, if that can be done, in Zimbabwe, Belarus, Syria and so on. I am conscious of the need to have human rights and a democratic process that actually works. Does the Minister feel that what we are doing now, alongside those who have worked within Europe in the past, will influence change in human rights, including sometimes the rights of those of religious belief?
In general terms, the answer is yes, I very much hope so. That is what sanctions are designed to do. However, as the House will appreciate, we are today just looking at the framework within which specific sanctions regimes can fit, rather than at the actual sanctions regimes or indeed their efficacy and effect in the countries we are discussing. We are looking at a legal framework under these SIs; we are not really looking at the full operation of the sanctions that may form part of the framework we are setting up today.
I assure colleagues that the 2018 Act does indeed provide the necessary powers in UK law to allow us to develop our own regime. However, these SIs were laid on a contingent basis to provide for the continuation of sanctions should we leave the EU without a deal. As such, our priority has necessarily been to ensure the transfer of existing EU measures by laying SIs such as these. We will give consideration to new regimes as circumstances suggest and as parliamentary time allows. Approving these regulations would ensure that we have the necessary powers to impose sanctions in respect of Zimbabwe, Belarus and Syria, and in respect of the proliferation and use of chemical weapons, from the date of our EU exit. In the event of a deal, EU sanctions would continue to apply during the implementation period, and these instruments would not immediately be needed. As a member of the EU, or during the implementation period, EU sanctions will apply in the UK. We will look to use the powers provided by the 2018 Act to the fullest extent possible during this period, but there will be some limitations on the measures we can impose autonomously. I wish quickly to describe the purpose of each regime.
The chemical weapons sanctions regulations aim to deter the use and proliferation of chemical weapons, and encourage the effective implementation of the chemical weapons convention, by imposing immigration and financial sanctions on those involved in their use and proliferation.
The Zimbabwe sanctions regulations aim to encourage the Government of Zimbabwe to respect democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights, and to deter the repression of civil society. The regulations impose an arms embargo and other financial, immigration and trade restrictions, including on the trade in goods and technology that may be used for internal repression.
The Belarus sanctions regulations aim to address human rights abuses and threats to the rule of law, and to encourage the proper investigation and institution of criminal proceedings against those responsible for the disappearance of four individuals. The measures include an arms embargo, financial and immigration sanctions, and restrictions on goods or technology that may be used for internal repression.
The Syria sanctions regulations aim to deter the Syrian regime from actions, policies or activities that repress the civilian population, and to encourage a negotiated political settlement to end the conflict. The regulations include asset freezes and/or travel bans on designation persons, together with financial, sectoral and aircraft sanctions; and wide-ranging trade restrictions, including on goods and technology that may be used for internal repression and the interception and monitoring of telecommunications, but also in respect of other goods and technology, such as crude oil, jet fuel, luxury goods and items that can contribute to chemical and biological weapons.
These four SIs transfer into UK law well-established EU sanctions regimes that are in line with the UK’s foreign policy priorities. They encourage respect for human rights, the rule of law and security and stability in very difficult environments—
I am about to finish. If the hon. Gentleman would like to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he may stand a chance of asking some questions, which I will answer at the end.
Approving these SIs will allow the UK to continue to implement sanctions from the moment we leave the EU, and it will send a strong signal of our intention to continue to play a leading role in the development and implementation of sanctions in the future. I commend them to the House.
We do not intend to divide the House on these statutory instruments, because we believe that in the event of a no-deal Brexit it would be right to roll over these sanctions in their current form, which is what we are providing for. However, the papers before us include some detailed descriptions of the sanctions and explanatory memorandums setting out their purpose—what the SIs are intended to do and why—so I want to ask the Minister a couple of questions. I will structure it in a slightly different way, because I think the order on the Order Paper is completely illogical, but I will begin by discussing chemical weapons.
The use of chemical weapons is prohibited, and the chemical weapons convention covering these sanctions is now 20 years old. In general, the convention has been a significant success, because 97% of the stockpiles of chemical weapons have been destroyed. However, we want to think about ways in which we can strengthen enforcement of the convention. Obviously, the sanctions are part of that enforcement mechanism. The current sanctions apply entirely to people from Syria or to Russians who have worked for the GRU—that is because of their involvement in the Salisbury incident. On the strengthening of enforcement, in addition to these and possible further sanctions, have the Government considered requesting challenge inspections, which are used if one country thinks another country has not been telling the truth about its stockpiles? It is possible to request such inspections through the UN Security Council. Given the fact that there is evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Malaysia, Indonesia—to which I shall come—and Great Britain, might the Government like to think about requesting challenge inspections?
I have a technical question for the Minister. According to Human Rights Watch, chemical weapons have been used 85 times in the Syria conflict. As I said, the sanctions relating to chemical weapons and Syria cover Russians and Syrians, but it is believed that Daesh has used some chemical weapons in Syria, and Daesh is currently not covered by the sanctions at all. Why is that and what consideration have the Government given to the matter? Is it simply not necessary because Daesh is a proscribed terrorist group, or is there some other reason? Does the Minister anticipate changing the chemical weapons regime when we have an independent sanctions policy?
I am extremely concerned about allegations that white phosphorus was used in West Papua in December 2018. I have met a human rights defender who has a lot of detailed information about the allegation, which is extremely disappointing because the human rights situation in Indonesia has improved markedly over the past 20 years. The use of white phosphorus by the security services would obviously be a breach of the chemical weapons convention. If the Minister or his officials do not have the answer now, please could they write to me on the matter?
Let me turn to the statutory instrument on Syria. The current sanctions that the Minister proposes to roll over cover 277 individuals and 51 entities—he mentioned oil, luxury goods and so on. Will the Minister update the House on the effectiveness of the sanctions and on what other steps the Government are taking to reduce the terrible ongoing conflict in Syria? When and how does the Minister think a negotiated political solution with the consent of the Syrian people is going to be achieved?
I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to what seems to be a hole in the Syria sanctions. They are meant to cover members of President Assad’s close family and his close associates, but it has come to light that his niece has been living and studying in the UK for some time. She was able to gain entry to this country, to enrol on not just one but two university courses, and to fund her stay, all apparently without the authorities noticing. Many people will be extremely angry to hear about that. The immigration regulations in this country are now quite tight, and people often come to Members when they are about to be thrown out by the Border Agency, yet the niece of President Assad, one of the most serious serial human rights abusers, who has used chemical weapons against his own people, has been allowed to live peacefully and happily in this country and to secure her education here. That cannot be right. What does the Minister think about it and what is he going to do about it?
Let me turn to Belarus, as there are obviously connections between the sanctions against Russians and the Belarus sanctions. In respect of human rights in Europe, Belarus is currently in the deep freeze, but the sanctions are quite narrow, covering only four people. Does the Minister think the sanctions are proving to be effective in affecting the behaviour of the Belarus Government? As he said, evidence of human rights violations in Belarus continues to come in. In 2016, the EU decided to lift sanctions against 170 people, but the ongoing human rights situation in Belarus is extremely serious. The Minister said that the sanctions were related only to the disappearance of four individuals; why were those four particular episodes the ones on which the Government and the European Union alighted in respect of their sanctions policy? I am pleased that, being the Minister for Europe, the Minister knows a lot about Belarus and will be able to tell the House what is going on. Does he give any credibility at all to Moscow’s proposal for the unification of Russia and Belarus?
Order. Before the hon. Lady goes any further, she and the House will appreciate that the matter we are debating is very narrow, because it has to do with exactly what is on the Order Paper in respect of these sanctions. I am being fairly liberal—with a small l—because I appreciate that the Minister probably does have the information to which the hon. Lady refers, but my concern is to make sure that the debate that we have right now, as opposed to a wider debate at another time, relates to what is on the Order Paper.
I was about to move on to Zimbabwe, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I am sure I can satisfy you.
On Zimbabwe, we have only limited sanctions that relate only to President Mugabe and the defence industries. The purpose of the sanctions is to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, but how can they possibly be effective given that Zimbabwe has a new Government? How can sanctions on a previous regime conceivably affect the new regime? That new regime has been described by some Zimbabweans as a new driver in an old taxi. The situation does not quite make sense.
The hon. Lady may be aware that some of those widely believed to be responsible for human rights violations in Zimbabwe under the previous President are still closely associated with the new Government. Does she agree that if there is evidence that any of those individuals have committed serious violations of the human rights of UK citizens, who have been forced to flee Zimbabwe and come back to the UK as a result, they should also be subjected to sanctions, and that those sanctions should apply until such a time as the UK citizens have been given proper compensation through the courts?
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. There has been a brutal crackdown on protests, with 2,354 violations of human rights, including 17 deaths and 17 rapes. I hope that the Minister will take that into account and tell us what precisely the Government will do to achieve change. I also want to know whether the Government’s policy on sanctions is being co-ordinated with the policy being run by the Department for International Development to tackle the drought. Obviously, sanctions can be tricky when they are against a country delivering aid, as knowing which transactions can pass through and which cannot can be complicated.
I do not know whether, as well as discussing the sanctions with the European Union, the Minister has been co-ordinating with the African Union. The current position is that Zimbabwe will not be allowed to rejoin the Commonwealth until it improves its human rights record, but will the Minister please tell us the co-ordination mechanism with the African Union?
That brings me to my final general point, which I also raised in our last debate on sanctions. How will we co-ordinate with the European Union after we have left? Everybody in this House fully understands that just one country’s sanctions cannot be effective. This only works when we have co-ordination internationally. Sometimes that co-ordination is at the UN level and sometimes, as in the case of these regimes, it is at the European level, but the Minister has not as yet been able to tell us what co-ordination mechanisms the Government are planning post Brexit. It would be interesting to know from him what he envisages, both in the scenario of leaving with a deal and in the case of leaving without a deal.
Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I need to duck out immediately after my speech, as I have explained to the Whip on duty. I intend to return, I hope in time for the wind-ups. Forgive me for leaving immediately after a speech, which I rarely do.
I want to speak briefly to emphasise the importance of the roll-over of these sanctions, in particular in relation to Syria, an area I know something about, and the prohibition of chemical weapons. Sanctions are an international symbol, and they are important not only as regards the individuals designated, but as a sign of international concern about breaches of international law. We live in a fragile world. It is made up of different blocs that have created a post-war consensus, and a series of rules and regulations that have held the world in check, including in some very difficult areas.
I agree with Helen Goodman that the prohibition of chemical weapons measure has worked particularly well, as has the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. If it is breached—it has been broken in relation to Syria and in relation to the UK in recent times—we are all at risk. Ensuring that there is a sanctions regime is important in itself, and for the individuals concerned.
I am concerned about the risk of Syria becoming almost a forgotten conflict, because it is no longer on the front pages—and it needs to be. As some of us feared, there was a risk that interventions in Syria—not by the west, but by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah—would enable the regime to recover territory and effectively reach a position where the conflict was resolved to its benefit. As that has gone quiet, we have forgotten the indignities suffered by the Syrian people—the millions who have been displaced internally and the millions who have gone abroad. The sanctions regime is essential to keep that in people’s minds. Sanctions contain those who have been associated with a regime that has waged war and made chemical attacks on its own people.
There is a concern about so-called normalisation. There has to be a future for the countries that border Syria; we all understand that. Lebanon and Jordan in particular want to return refugees—of course they do—but there can be no normalisation with a regime that continues to treat its people as it does. We are aware that when refugees go back to recovered areas in Lebanon or Jordan, and speak to their families and say what is happening, they are interrogated. Young people are conscripted and taken away to potential battle areas. The same indignities that were heaped on people and the offences committed against them in the past take place again. There can be no normalisation in those circumstances. It would matter hugely to those who are watching every move, and who believe that there should be justice after the conflict, if sanctions were not rolled over, and if we were not able to take this sort of action in Syria,.
My very good and right hon. Friend talks about sanctions and something happening. Under international law, what can happen to people who are named in one of these sanctions?
The sanctions have been imposed on a series of individuals connected with the regime. They affect their financial transactions. Many of them remain involved internationally; they want to make investments, to have money coming through, and to be able to conduct their business. Sanctions make that difficult. We know that around any regime there are the cronies who keep it in place through their use of money and assets. Sanctions make all that much more difficult.
That is different from the case of those who might be identified through another process as being guilty of crimes. There must be some sort of investigation into war crimes after the Syrian conflict comes to an end. Sanctions increase pressure on the regime to recognise that there can be no normalisation unless it follows the UN process, there is a political process, and there is political change in Syria that means that the people have an opportunity of a normal life after the conflict.
If the sanctions regime was not there—if the international community forgot about Syria—the situation would be so much worse, so I welcome the measures proposed by my right hon. Friend the Minister. In answer to the last point made by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, I believe that it will be possible to have a strong relationship with the European Union and other entities to ensure international co-operation on these sanctions. We are an island in one sense, but in another we are not. We need to make sure that we have the contacts and the abilities to ensure that we are part of an international sanctions regime to ensure maximum pressure on those who have caused harm and perpetuate a system that causes damage.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for bringing the measures forward, and to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland for her response, which ensures that there is consensus on this, as there must be. For the people of Syria, this will bring a welcome sense that they are not forgotten, and that there will be justice for the crimes committed against them.
My comments will be relatively brief, but there are important issues to be discussed. This will certainly be part of ongoing discussions as the UK decides how to leave the EU. Helen Goodman, speaking from the Front Bench for the official Opposition, talked about that relationship and what would happen about the co-ordination of activities. We should not lose sight of that as developments take place, but it is entirely responsible to keep applying sanctions, particularly on chemical weapons and their use, and against proliferation, as the UK leaves the EU. It is important that we all use all our efforts to prevent the proliferation of these weapons and encourage the effective implementation of the convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their final destruction.
On Zimbabwe, it is again entirely necessary for the UK to remain in support of, and to continue to apply, the sanctions put in place through the EU. We should always be ready to protect and promote human rights wherever they are denied, and these sanctions are very necessary in applying pressure to oppressive regimes, so that they improve their human rights record, whatever that may be.
The EU maintains a far-reaching and powerful sanctions regime, and we should be keen to align ourselves with our closest allies in the EU—albeit that the UK is leaving the EU very soon and will no longer be a member state, although I am sure that there are parts of the UK that have other ambitions in that regard.
The UK is Belarus’s third biggest trading partner after Russia and Ukraine, and the second largest investor in the country. It is important that the UK continues its actions on human rights and freedom of the press, and it is entirely necessary for pressure to be applied to keep a focus on human rights abuses.
In Syria, we have seen a regime that has used chemical weapons against its own people; 400,000 people have been killed there, and half of Syria’s population has been displaced. The EU imposed sanctions in 2011. As the Minister said, these sanctions include travel bans and asset freezing. We would expect sanctions to continue multilaterally to ensure that we work hand in glove with the EU, and our allies and partners. The Minister has mentioned co-ordination; I would like reassurance about the Government’s position in that regard.
It really is a huge disappointment that this is all about the UK Government taking a certain path while Scotland is dragged out of the EU against its will, and in contravention of the vote in Scotland, where people voted to remain in very large numbers. The UK has decided on its own path, which is why the Government are using parliamentary time now to unravel 40 years of co-operation across Europe, but they should not be surprised if Scotland takes her own path in the coming months and years. We perhaps see our future as the new 28th state of the EU, and I think it would be appropriate if Scotland was a direct replacement for the UK in that process. But whatever the outcome of any future referendum in Scotland, I hope that we can continue to work hand in glove, shoulder to shoulder, with other EU states to maintain the sanctions regime.
It is a pleasure to hear that the importance of rolling over these sanctions is supported on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend Alistair Burt spoke with considerable knowledge and authority about the sanctions against Syria. I will concentrate on another of the three countries on whom this set of sanctions will be maintained: Belarus.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on Belarus in this place, and last year led an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation to Minsk. Later this year, we will be inviting Belarus to pay a return visit and send a delegation to visit the UK. The explanatory memorandum to these sanctions regulations refers to the need for respect of “democratic principles and institutions” in Belarus; but one has to say that there is still some way to go. The Parliament in Minsk and the parliamentary institutions of Belarus are not quite as we would recognise in this country. Those who do sit in Parliament have been largely appointed by the President, and those who were not appointed directly have certainly been approved by the President in taking up their position. The President himself first took office in 1994. He has won several elections since then, usually by over 90% of the vote, and the bodies that have observed those elections—not least the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe—have raised considerable concerns about their validity.
Belarus is also undoubtedly still firmly within the Russian orbit, and one has to accept that its room for manoeuvre is severely limited by what the Kremlin allows. Having said that, there are some signs of progress. Belarus did not recognise the Russian occupation of South Ossetia, of Abkhazia or of Crimea, and there are signs that it wishes to edge away and that some progress is being made. It was for that reason that the IPU decided that it was worthwhile to send a delegation to encourage further steps of progress, and I pay tribute to our excellent ambassador in Minsk, who is pressing for reform while also seeking to ensure that we have relations with the Government and institutions of Belarus.
There are also economic opportunities in Belarus, as Douglas Chapman pointed out. The UK is a considerable market for Belarus exports. I have to say that Belarus is a rather smaller market for UK exports, but nevertheless there is an opportunity there. However, when it comes to human rights, it is worth noting that Belarus is still, I think, the only country in Europe that institutes the death penalty. The number of people executed actually doubled last year—to four. Assurances that Belarus is seeking to have a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty have been rather disproved by its recent actions, and that too is a considerable stain on its record and prevents it from joining the Council of Europe among other things.
The explanatory memorandum for these sanctions names four individuals. The first three—Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski—were all opposition politicians who were previously quite close to President Lukashenko, but found themselves in opposition to him and then died in 1999. Some were abducted, and the courts have now ruled that they were almost certainly murdered. Quite exactly what happened, we still do not know.
The fourth individual named on the explanatory memorandum and the regulations is Dzmitry Zavadski, and I mention him specifically because although he was President Lukashenko’s personal cameraman, he also practised widely as a journalist. As the Minister and others may know, I am a very strong supporter of media freedom. I strongly welcome the initiative that the Foreign Secretary has taken to make media freedom a priority of this Government to the extent of organising an international conference on it in July. The IPU, which I have the honour to chair, will be following that up.
The death of Mr Zavadski is a terrible blot, but it is worth mentioning another individual who worked alongside him—Pavel Sheremet. Pavel Sheremet was another Belarusian journalist who fell out with the President. He was also a critic of President Putin and a great friend of Boris Nemtsov in Russia. He was assassinated in a car bomb in Kiev in 2016, and his murder is another example of the risks that journalists take and how they sometimes pay a price with their lives. We should always raise the issue of Pavel Sheremet. Quite who was responsible for his death is unclear—he made a number of enemies among people who could well have been responsible—but he was a Belarusian journalist. He was also one of the founders of Charter 97, which is a human rights organisation that operates in Belarus. I met representatives of Charter 97 just a few weeks ago. Its founder was also killed, the editor-in-chief fled and is now in Poland, and access to its website is blocked in Belarus.
The record in Belarus is not good. I therefore certainly would not argue that sanctions should necessarily be lifted. However, I would say that we should keep them under review and that we should encourage where there are signs of progress. I hope that there is some movement towards greater liberalisation and away from the alliance with Russia. On that subject, I will not bore the Minister by repeating what has come up regularly in these debates but merely say that the sanctions against Russia remain of huge importance. We await the Government’s announcement of the implementation of the Magnitsky sanctions following the passage of the necessary legislation in this House. If ever we needed an example of why those sanctions against Russia remain of huge importance, it was the Minister’s excellent response to the debate that we had last week on the Russian annexation of Crimea. He will know that within hours of that, the Russians announced that they were going to make passports available to people living in Donbass. I am very pleased that the Foreign Office made clear our condemnation of that further provocation by Russia against the people and Government of Ukraine.
I strongly support these sanctions. However, I was keen to take this opportunity to put it on the record that although the sanctions against Belarus are justified, there are nevertheless small signs of progress.
It is a real pleasure to follow Mr Whittingdale. He referred to the fact that the explanatory memorandum on the sanctions on Belarus does include the names of individuals, whereas, in contrast, the explanatory memorandums on Zimbabwe and on Syria specifically say that they do not. Clearly, there may be reasons for that in terms of individuals being able to know that they were on lists, but perhaps the Minister—if he is listening—will be able to respond to my point to clarify exactly why Belarus is being treated differently from Syria and Zimbabwe.
We are once again debating in this House matters that are probably a complete waste of our time, because everybody knows that there is not going to be a no-deal Brexit and that it may even be, hopefully, that we will not have Brexit at all. It is a bit like Alice in Wonderland: we keep coming back to having the same old discussions about things that probably will not happen. Nevertheless, we have to do it, so I will briefly refer to some of the issues that have been touched on.
The chemical weapons sanctions are extremely important, but we have to be honest about this. The chemical weapons convention is about 20 years old. I was involved in the debates in the House at that time. In fact, I had an Adjournment debate urging the Government to ratify the convention. I can recall how important those discussions were. However, we know that countries lie and cheat. The Assad regime in Syria was a signatory to the convention. It apparently had no chemical weapons whatsoever. Then suddenly, after the use of chemical weapons and the threat of military action by the Obama Administration in 2013, the Russians were able to make an arrangement to remove massive stockpiles of the chemical weapons that the Syrian regime apparently did not have. Subsequently, it has become clear that the apparent removal of all of Syria’s chemical weapons has not been the case, because, as Helen Goodman mentioned, there has been documented use of chemical weapons—I think she said 86 times—within Syria. The overwhelming majority of those occasions have been related to use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, so we know that the convention—and therefore the sanctions that relate to it and compliance with it—has not been totally effective.
We need to revisit these issues internationally and to have more robust measures. Some of the robust measures that we can take are against designated individuals. There is a connection between the chemical weapons use in Syria and the chemical weapons convention. Mention was previously made of individuals living in this country who are acting as conduits, or bankers, for the Assad regime, either through family connections or through corrupt connections of another kind. We all know from the series “McMafia” that people in accountancy and law firms in our capital city are facilitating the way in which people get round sanctions. Last year, the Foreign Affairs Committee produced a very good report called “Moscow’s Gold” that detailed how Russia had a malign role within the City of London and elsewhere.
Clearly, Russia-friendly regimes such as those in Syria, Belarus and other places can use various mechanisms to get round financial sanctions. Whether it is done through London, from offshore British overseas territories or via other jurisdictions, we need to be more vigilant on these issues. Although the European Union plays a very important role, we also have to recognise that this is a global issue. It is not sufficient for us to act in a European context; we also need the United States, and other countries, to come together to make sure that there is vigorous enforcement of the sanctions regime.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point about the need for global co-operation on this. Does he believe that the UK should be taking a leading role in the UN, as it does, to make sure that there is true global co-operation to apply sanctions in multinational blocs but also to make sure that they are enforced, and that we co-operate to encourage as much good behaviour as possible?
Yes. I have been in discussions with people within the UN system who deal with the issue of terrorist financing, for example. UK officials, former or current, have always played an important role in that system. I pay tribute to the role of our people within the UN system. We need to work globally, but we also need to continue to strengthen the European Union’s sanctions regime for however long we remain members.
The sanctions regime in Zimbabwe was brought in against the Mugabe regime. There were a number of occasions when high-profile individuals were still able to attend international meetings. These were designated meetings in Brussels or in other European capitals that even Mugabe himself was able to attend. Our hope, with the democratic change in Zimbabwe, was that there would be a normalisation of politics in Zimbabwe and that sanctions would then be lifted to help the economic and social development of that country, which has suffered so much under the brutal dictatorship that it has had. Sadly, Zimbabwe is not making the progress that was hoped for. However, I am not sure whether the current sanctions regime is actually the best way forward to deal with the problems in Zimbabwe. We need to look at the possibility of trying to encourage a transition that there is clearly public demand for. Zimbabwe is also, because of its geographical position, suffering from the impact of the cyclones that have hit Mozambique—they have also gone across into parts of Zimbabwe. I hope that the Minister can address that issue as well.
I would genuinely like to thank all Members who have contributed to the debate. Many have done so from a position of significant expertise and knowledge of the countries mentioned in the framework sanctions regime we are discussing.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am mindful of your stricture that we must not stray from the matters on the Order Paper, but inevitably some Members have been drawn into discussing the broader national issues around the framework law we are discussing. I am sure that Helen Goodman will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on an individual such as the niece of President Assad.
Well, I am indignant. The convention in the House is surely that anything covered in an explanatory memorandum is reasonable to put to the Minister. I am extremely concerned that the niece of President Assad has been allowed to live and study in this country. Surely if the Minister looks at part 2 of the regulations on the designation of persons, he can see that she is a person who has supported or benefited from the Syrian regime and is a prominent person—she falls into the categories included in the documents, as does the question I raised about Daesh and about the white phosphorus incident in Indonesia. It may be inconvenient for the Minister to answer those questions, but it must surely be in order.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady’s indignation is wrong on all counts. First, white phosphorus does not fall under the chemical weapons regime as it is a different sort of weapon, nor does Daesh, which falls under other regimes related to al-Qaeda and Daesh. I think it would be highly inappropriate for me to discuss an individual when we are looking at the framework within which the sort of designations the hon. Lady mentions can take place. These regulations put in place the law within which those designations can happen. We are not specifically looking at the designations themselves.
In respect of what we are able to transfer into the framework we are discussing, the sanctions relating to Belarus, for instance, were agreed in 2004. The EU sanctions regime currently imposes asset freezes and travel bans on four Belarus nationals with links to the Belarus Government who were implicated in the disappearance of two opposition politicians, a businessman and a journalist in 1999 and 2000. The hon. Lady also asked about changing the chemical weapons regime. We are mindful of our and others’ obligations under the chemical weapons convention and, through the regulations, we would have the flexibility to change sanctions should it be thought appropriate.
These regulations are necessary to enable the UK to implement our independent sanctions policy within the framework of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 from the moment we leave the EU. Approving the regulations would in no way prevent the development of an autonomous human rights sanctions regime. The sanctions Act 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 to respect human rights.
Sanctions are an integral part of our response to the most important foreign policy challenges we face. We must be ready to deliver sanctions independently as soon as the UK leaves the EU, and that is why these statutory instruments are so important. Transposing EU sanctions regimes in this way puts the UK on a solid footing to continue to protect our interests, defend our values and maintain the position of leadership that we have built on sanctions over so many years. I commend the regulations to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Chemical Weapons (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 618), which were laid before this House on