Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes Independent, Ilford South 7:10 pm, 29th April 2019

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.