Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 6:51 pm, 29th April 2019

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,.