Iran’s Nuclear Programme

– in the House of Commons at 12:41 pm on 30th June 2022.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark 12:41 pm, 30th June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
expresses grave concern at the imminent prospect of a nuclear armed Iran;
calls on the Government in its ongoing negotiations in respect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) agreement to seek to extend the sunset clauses, enact a stricter monitoring regime, retain terrorist proscriptions, and expand its scope to include Iran’s other destabilising activities in the region.

There are significant concerns, as set out in the motion, at the negotiated deal that is apparently about to be signed. I have been actively seeking an opportunity to raise those concerns over Iran’s destabilising activities for a number of months. I give thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting time in the main Chamber, and to my many cross-party colleagues who supported the application.

This debate could not come at a more important time. On 9 June, the UK, Germany and France released a joint statement saying that they are ready to conclude a deal with Iran that would restore the joint comprehensive plan of action, and urging Iran to seize the diplomatic opportunity it presented. On Monday, indirect talks between the United States and Iran resumed in Doha.

This is by no means the first time that we have debated Iran in this place, and I dare say it will not be the last, but today’s debate could perhaps be the last opportunity to evaluate the merits or otherwise of a return to the JCPOA nuclear agreement. I firmly believe that, whatever one’s view—we will hear a range of them today, no doubt—it is vital that, before any deal is signed, our Government hear the opinions of Members of this House.

Anxieties over Iran are felt acutely by many across the House, as I am sure we will hear. I am on the record as having been very sceptical of the original 2015 deal, believing it to be too limited in scope to prevent Iran’s malign activities and far too weak in enforcement to prevent a nuclear Iran, should Iran choose that path. That view was shared at the time by many—including, we have subsequently learned, a number of those who were close to the negotiations. I think, for example, of the noble Lord Hammond and the former Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who have both subsequently expressed their concerns at the limited nature of the deal that was ultimately signed.

Whatever one’s thoughts about the JCPOA, the fundamentally different circumstances we face today must be confronted. It is always easy to stick with what one has been involved in for a long time; of course there is pride among those who have negotiated relentlessly on this issue, both here in the UK, in the Foreign Office, and particularly in the Biden Administration, among those officials who were previously in the Obama Administration. However, it is time to appreciate what has happened in the seven years since the deal was signed.

Iran’s nuclear programme has continued apace. While the terms of the JCPOA restricted Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 3.67% fissile purity and a stockpile of only 300 kg of uranium, as of last month the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has been enriching uranium up to a purity of 60%—a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I am spoilt for choice, but I will give way first to my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that, far from the JCPOA-minus that seems to be in prospect, we need a tougher deal with Iran that reflects its transgressions in compliance with the current agreement? We must reflect those transgressions in a deal that is actually powerful in preventing Iran from developing its nuclear programme.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I agree wholeheartedly with my right hon. Friend, who has been interested and engaged in this issue for a long time. The point she makes, which I hope I will make over the course of my remarks, is that we do want a negotiated settlement and agreement, but it must be one that is robust and has the effect of preventing both Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and its wider malign activities in the region that are harming our key partners, our friends and ourselves.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and neighbour for giving way. He mentions that Iran has developed uranium to 60% purity. Is he aware of any country on Earth that has enriched to that level for peaceful purposes?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

No, and I do not think anyone would believe that that is Iran’s ultimate intent. The latest intelligence, for example, showing that bunkers have been constructed underground in which to hold some of that material, makes clear what the ultimate intent of Iran is on this issue.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I will give way one last time, and then I shall make some progress.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Many people have focused on transgressions against the JCPOA, but because of the infamous sunset provisions in the 2015 deal, Iran will be able to legitimately undertake a full nuclear programme. That means that we could be facing a nuclear Iran as early as 2025. Without doing anything, we are already in a very difficult and dangerous scenario.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

My hon. Friend is correct. I will make this point in a moment, but there is no harm in restating it now: the original deal contained a number of sunset provisions, and the proposed deal, as reported, merely keeps those sunset provisions in exactly the same form. Even if we were to sign the deal tomorrow, it would begin to fade away in 2023. One really has to question the point of signing up to the proposed deal.

Iran stands on the verge of possessing a nuclear bomb. In fact, intelligence suggests it has sufficient enriched uranium today for at least two nuclear weapons. It has progressed far beyond the parameters of the JCPOA, so restoring Iran to the old deal has none of the benefits we once thought it would. The JCPOA’s time has been and gone; the Rubicon has been crossed.

After earlier talk of a longer and stronger deal, more recent rounds of the nuclear talks have seen US negotiators make concession after painful concession in an attempt to bring Iran back to the deal. We now see before us the contours of a shorter and weaker agreement—one that many have taken to dismissing as JCPOA-minus. In that agreement the Iranian regime will be reintegrated into the international community and afforded huge economic benefits that, crucially, will be channelled not into education, healthcare or infrastructure projects but into supporting and promoting terrorist activities, for instance through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s web of proxies across the region, and the restrictions on its nuclear programme will last for a fraction of the time. It is unclear whether this stands to strengthen efforts for non-proliferation.

I believe that a new framework is required. Proponents of the JCPOA spoke of its ability to restrict Iran’s break-out time to one year. In view of the reduction of this to as little as a few weeks, we need the Government to recognise that this is simply not going to work, and that any agreement that could obtain the consent of this House—certainly of Members who take my view—will need to have very significantly longer sunset clauses.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in everything he has said. However, it is not only the potential for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons that is a concern, but its ability then to deliver those weapons through ballistic missiles. Clearly Iran has enhanced its capability in that regard and could, if it has nuclear weapons, deliver them now. What would he say about how we need to restrict Iran’s capability to develop such weapons?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The JCPOA contains the word “comprehensive”, but it was anything but comprehensive. It certainly did not speak to the malign activities of Iran throughout the region, but nor did it address the seeking of enriched uranium, the weapons that would be able to deliver the nuclear weapons or the other infrastructure and equipment that is required in the process. Any deal that we now sign needs to address all those matters. In fact, as I said, on the pursuit of enriched uranium, the ship has already sailed because Iran already has it.

The agreement as reported in the media seems set to include the same structural problems as we saw in the 2015 deal. Unless the new nuclear terms are expanded in scope to allow a more rigorous inspection regime, I fear we will repeat the same mistakes. Iran has reached the nuclear threshold under the watchful eye of what was supposed to be the most intrusive inspection regime ever. By its own admission, the UN’s nuclear watchdog is “flying blind”—the IAEA chief said as much in June 2021. One year on, Iran has taken a series of steps to further restrict IAEA access to its nuclear sites, including the deliberate removal of cameras from its most sensitive facilities. Years of tolerating Iran’s flagrant breaches out of fear of the talks collapsing has led us down this path.

A glaring weakness of the JCPOA was that it did nothing to address Iran’s wider activities throughout the world. Our failure to address Iran’s support for its network of proxies continues to reverberate to this day. Iran was and remains the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism—a point I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary acknowledge in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday. The regime’s commitment to exporting the Islamic revolution has been underwritten by an active embrace of violence since it first came to power in 1979. In recent weeks, Istanbul has been the setting for an extraordinary Iranian terror plot. Thanks to the close co-operation between the Israeli and the Turkish security services, an Iranian terror cell attempting to kidnap and kill Israeli tourists—innocent civilians—was thwarted. In one incident, several Israeli tourists visiting a market had to be intercepted before they returned to their hotel room, where their would-be assassins were reportedly waiting for their return.

The Iranian threat is very clear and present here at home. In 2019, it was revealed that British intelligence services had identified a Hezbollah cell stockpiling 3 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate in residential north-west London for use in a terror attack—the very same chemical that was recently inflicting such terrible damage in Beirut. The misplaced notion that the JCPOA would moderate the Iranian regime was dispelled when its Intelligence Ministry sought to bomb an opposition rally in Paris in 2018 with the help of an Iranian diplomat.

Behind all these examples—and there are many others I could cite—sits the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s premier agent for terrorism. The organisation funds, trains and provides the ideological underpinning for many of the world’s terror organisations, from Hamas to Hezbollah to the Houthis. Reports from the previous round of negotiation that the Biden Administration was considering delisting the IRGC from its foreign terror list have been worrying, to say the least. Quite simply, it would be a grave miscalculation and a great dishonour if our Government were to support any such action. It would make a mockery of the efforts that we have made in recent years to proscribe Hamas and Hezbollah if we signed up to a deal that legitimises the very organisation that funds Hamas and Hezbollah. That really would be a perverse and absurd outcome.

The negotiations in Doha cannot be detached from the broader geopolitical landscape. A dangerous new dynamic is at play in the latest round of nuclear talks. As the EU desperately tries to wean itself off Russian hydrocarbons, we see an ill-advised pivot towards Iran for energy supplies. In a visit to Iran over the weekend, Josep Borrell openly called for Europe to seek new sources of oil and gas following its move away from Russia and spoke of the high potential economic benefits awaiting Iran. At the G7 summit in Germany, Macron pointedly called for more Iranian oil to enter the market. The west can ill afford to end its dependency on one rogue regime merely by pivoting towards the religious fundamentalists in Tehran. How ridiculous would it be for us to invest so much time, effort and energy in defeating Vladimir Putin merely to make an advance—an opening—towards Tehran, Venezuela or other authoritarian regimes? It is troubling enough that the talks have been mediated by Russia, the world’s only nuclear-armed state currently threatening to actually use those weapons. If restrictions are lifted, Russia will receive a financial boost from sales of military equipment as well as the construction of nuclear power plants in Iran.

Iran’s list of nuclear transgressions is as long as it is troubling and has long necessitated an urgent response. The UK Government were right to say in March:

“Iran’s nuclear programme has never before been this advanced, and is exposing the international community to unprecedented levels of risk.”

At this critical juncture, the west urgently needs to change its strategy. We valiantly pursued diplomatic avenues to their limit, and beyond. Dedicated officials here in the Foreign Office, and in the Obama and Biden Administrations, have invested immense time and resources in negotiating the JCPOA, but that is not a reason to sign a bad deal. As Iran continues to stall negotiations, it is time for a more robust approach reimposing snapback sanctions on Iran and tightening the economic screw until it is willing to countenance the serious proposals that I have shared here today.

This position is no longer that of ultra-hawkish Republicans. In March, despite a polarised political climate in the United States, 70 Democrats and Republicans in Congress wrote to the National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, to demand that the new deal signed with Iran must include an extension of the sunset clauses that we discussed earlier, retention of the IRGC proscription—I would like the UK Government to proscribe it as well—and a toughening of the monitoring regime, with an extension in scope to include Iran’s other destabilising activities such as its ballistic missile programme. President Obama can press ahead with a weak deal, but if he does, there is a strong likelihood that the Senate and the House of Representatives will do everything in their power to frustrate it, and were there to be an incoming Republican President, which seems quite likely, it would be their day-one act to end the agreement. Why would we do something that is of such a short-term benefit, if any? In doing so, we weaken our relationships with some of our oldest friends and key partners, whether that be the state of Israel, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or others, all of whom publicly or privately are pleading with our Government to listen to their concerns and not to proceed with this agreement.

Those countries in the middle east already fear that the west is retrenching and is an unreliable ally, particularly having seen the events of our messy and embarrassing retreat from Kabul a year ago. To impose this agreement in addition, against their best wishes, merely pushes them further away from us and towards new friends and relationships, whether that be Russia or China. That would be a very sad outcome.

To conclude, the Iranian regime brutally represses, persecutes and tortures its own people. It wastes the Iranian people’s resources on terrorism, foreign aggression, missiles and nuclear-weapon capabilities. I hope to see the day when we and our partners have no need for sanctions on Iran or the proscription of its affiliates. I hope to see the day when the UK and Iran can enjoy normalised relations and when the people of Iran have a Government who respect human dignity and exist in peace with their neighbours, but that day will not come if we provide sanctions relief to fuel the regime’s corruption, incompetence and terrorism. Nor will the day come through weak and naive responses to the pursuit of and now the establishment of nuclear-weapon capabilities. I humbly urge the UK Government to change course, to learn from the first JCPOA’s failures, to listen to the concerns of many across the House and our partners in the region, and to work with us and them to impose maximum pressure on Iran.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North 1:01 pm, 30th June 2022

I compliment Robert Jenrick on obtaining this debate and I particularly endorse the last point he made about looking forward to the ultimate day when there will be no sanctions against Iran, because that surely is the place we would want to be.

We should have a slight passing interest in the past British relationship with Iran, which is not much discussed in this country, but is discussed a great deal in Iran. There are memories of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, later BP, and the promotion of the coup in 1953 by Britain and the CIA together to get rid of the secular progressive Government in place at that time. It might seem a long time ago, but it is very real to people in Iran, and the arguments about it are rehearsed many times over.

The 1979 revolution in Iran was obviously a massive event in every respect. It was a total revolution. A very authoritarian regime was installed. There was a massive killing rate by that regime and universal and total abuse of human rights. Many people from Iran came and sought asylum in this country and many others—indeed, a considerable number came to live in my constituency. In anything I say, I am well aware of the systematic abuse of human rights in Iran for many years. Any discussion with Iran must include a discussion of human rights. Obviously, that includes the dramatic horrors of executions and public executions, but the restriction on rights of assembly and freedom of speech are to me equally important.

It is also worth remembering that the Iranian people have lost relatives and thousands and thousands of soldiers in conflict since 1979. The appalling and disastrous Iran-Iraq war, which ended up achieving hardly anything for either side, cost hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides, wrecked both economies and has led to a continued economic problem for both sides. In discussing the nuclear issues, one should have regard for the longer-term history of Iran and the relationship of this country with Iran.

We are coming up to the non-proliferation treaty review conference this August in New York. Iran was a member of the non-proliferation treaty. Successive meetings that I have been to on the non-proliferation treaty have always concluded with the hope that there would be the declaration of a middle east weapons of mass destruction-free zone, which would give the opportunity for Israel and Iran to be included in the negotiations for a non-nuclear future for the middle east. While I fully appreciate that Iran clearly has developed centrifuges and enriched uranium almost to weapons-grade, two other countries in the region either have nuclear weapons or could. One is Israel, which clearly does have nuclear weapons, and the other is Saudi Arabia, which could quickly develop nuclear weapons if it wanted. The urgency of having a negotiation and a revamped version of the 2015 agreement, or something like it, is important if we are to try to preserve the peace of the region.

I was part of a delegation from the all-party group on Iran in 2014, and it was a fascinating experience, because the members of the delegation were Lord Lamont, a former Conservative Minister and Chancellor, Jack Straw, a former Labour Home Secretary, the current Defence Secretary, and me. The four of us divided up our roles in the delegation very clearly early on. Lord Lamont talked about economic issues, Jack Straw talked about global issues and trade, and I relentlessly and endlessly raised a lot of concerns about individual and collective human rights cases with the people we met in Iran. We were quite well received at universities and so forth, and we had serious negotiations. It was clear to me not only that such negotiations are tough, but that, if the Iran nuclear agreement was to succeed—this was pre the agreement, by the way; that is why we were there—it had to be accompanied by two things: the lifting of sanctions, which were very severe, particularly the medical sanctions being imposed at that time; and a human rights dialogue. The Iranians made it clear that they were prepared to have a human rights dialogue with the EU, or with other parties.

We have to strive for the lifting of sanctions, and that means there has to be a renewed effort to bring about an agreement with Iran to end the enrichment of uranium to anywhere near weapons-grade. I am not a great fan of nuclear power, but the Iranians are legally entitled to develop nuclear power if that is what they want to do. Personally, I do not think it is a great direction to go down, but obviously they can legally choose to do that. We should be well aware that, if we do not succeed in rejigging the 2015 agreement, we have problems ahead.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously believe that a country with a secret nuclear programme that is hidden from the IAEA inspectors and a country that is obstructing those inspectors is serious about negotiations? Is that his genuine belief?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

Iran has to be serious about negotiations and we have to be serious about negotiations. That is the whole point of this debate and the whole point of the joint agreement. If my friend has a better alternative, I would be interested to hear it. We should be aware that the agreement with Iran was made with the support of the United States under President Obama and of this country and many others. It is an international agreement. It was Donald Trump who said it was a bilateral agreement and the US should walk away from it. That is essentially the situation we have reached at the present time.

I hope that there will be strong negotiations with Iran. They will obviously be led by the US, the EU and other countries, including this one. That is an important way forward. Perhaps the non-proliferation treaty review conference is an opportunity to start to explore that way forward, because what is the alternative? The alternative is we increase the number of nuclear weapons within the region. I hope to goodness that Iran never develops nuclear weapons, as I wish other countries did not. We have to remember, though, that this country has nuclear weapons and this Government have just announced an increase in the number of our nuclear warheads, so it is not as if we are on the moral high ground when saying that nobody should ever develop nuclear weapons.

There is added urgency because of the situation in Palestine, the occupation of the west bank and the siege of Gaza. There is also the war in Yemen, where thankfully there is now a ceasefire. I hope the ceasefire becomes permanent and that the people of Yemen are able to live in peace, but our supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia has made the situation much worse.

We have to look towards a future in which there can be relations with Iran and a serious programme of improvement in respect of the human rights abuses in Iran, so that sanctions can gradually be lifted. That would allow the Iranian economy to develop and living standards to improve. Many people in Iran lead very poor lives, partly because of the sanctions and partly because of the level of resources taken up by the military, as was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Newark.

In his intervention, my friend Steve McCabe asked whether we were serious about negotiations. We were very serious about negotiations when we were trying to get Nazanin Ratcliffe released from her appalling detention in Iran. Eventually, she was released and the parallel agreement was made about the repayment of money by this country to Iran. However, other people were not released. I would be grateful if the Minister let me know, either when she responds or later in writing, about the situation facing Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz, both of whom should have been released with Nazanin but were not. They are still there and apparently the British Government are supporting their release. Those negotiations that were brought about for one person—a very special and wonderful person—had a good outcome, but there are other detainees who should be released.

This debate takes place at a time of peril, with the appalling war between Russia and Ukraine, and the resulting loss of life, and the increase in arms expenditure, with NATO proposing a huge increase. If we succeed in re-engaging with Iran and have a good outcome, good work will have been done and we will have helped to bring about a more peaceful middle east. If we do not, the pressure of the militarist hawks in Iran will become even more enormous and even more resources will go into nuclear and other weapons technology, with obvious dangers for everybody in the region. Surely our whole focus should be on nuclear disarmament and peace through negotiation to bring about a better standard of living for the people of Iran and, indeed, of all other countries in the region.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West 1:12 pm, 30th June 2022

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick and Steve McCabe on securing the debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for facilitating it. It is, for all the reasons set out by my right hon. Friend, a timely debate. It is also timely because it comes after the report of the board of governors of the IAEA on 30 May and the subsequent resolution of 8 June, which censures Iran for non-co-operation with the agency’s inquiry into nuclear traces found at three non-declared sites. That action on the part of the agency is certainly a step forward, but it goes nowhere near far enough.

Iran’s nuclear programme has been known about since 2002, when the existence of the facilities at Natanz and Arak were revealed by the Iranian democratic Opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The Iranian regime has always asserted that its programme is for civilian purposes only and has always denied that it is attempting to produce nuclear weapons. That simply defies belief. As we have heard, despite the terms of the JCPOA, Iran started enriching uranium to 20% in 2010, and later the same year it moved to 60% enrichment. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, that is considerably beyond anything that is needed for civilian purposes.

In its report of 1 June, the Institute for Science and International Security concluded:

“Iran’s breakout timeline is now at zero. It has enough 60 percent enriched uranium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to be assured it could fashion a nuclear explosive. If Iran wanted to further enrich its 60 percent HEU up to weapon-grade HEU, or 90 percent, it could do so within a few weeks with only a few of its advanced centrifuge cascades.”

Clearly the time pressure is enormous. The report went on to note:

“Whether or not Iran enriches its HEU up to 90 percent, it can have enough HEU for two nuclear weapons within one month after starting breakout.”

That is, by any standards, a very worrying state of affairs.

It is made all the more worrying by Iran’s increasingly erratic and aggressive stance in the region and, indeed, the wider world. As my right hon. Friend rightly pointed out, Iran is an active state sponsor of terrorism—probably the world’s leading state sponsor. Its proxies are engaged in fomenting conflict in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. My right hon. Friend mentioned the Istanbul incident; I would like to mention the incident in June 2018, when a bomb plot targeting a gathering of Iranian pro-democracy supporters in Paris was disrupted by the French and Belgian authorities. An Iranian diplomat accredited to the embassy in Vienna was subsequently convicted for leading the conspiracy and was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment. Three accomplices were convicted, and their sentences were upheld, with two years added, by the court of appeal in Antwerp in May. Iran is certainly exporting terrorism not just throughout the region, but across the world.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I feel the need to correct my right hon. Friend on that point. It was not just Iranian politicians and Opposition members who were targeted; five of us from the British Parliament were at risk of being blown up in that terrorist incident.

Photo of David Jones David Jones Conservative, Clwyd West

My hon. Friend is entirely right: it was a gathering of supporters of the NCRI, which takes place every year in Paris and attracts supporters from all round the world. As he points out, had that conspiracy been successful, its consequences would have been catastrophic.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Newark mentioned Iran’s revolutionary guard corps. That is, in effect, a state within a state. It directs, leads and executes the terrorist activities of Iran. As he pointed out, it is a proscribed organisation in the United States, and many will wonder why it is not proscribed in this country. I believe that it should be. Iran is already a global danger, but a nuclear-armed Iran is an appalling and unacceptable prospect.

The IAEA report makes it clear that the Iranian regime has, effectively, been playing games with the agency for many years. At three locations that the agency requested to visit, the regime razed buildings to the ground and removed structural material and soil, clearly in an effort to disguise what was happening there. Nevertheless, the agency discovered traces of anthropogenic nuclear material. The report states that the regime has

“not provided explanations that are technically credible” for the presence of nuclear material in those locations. The Tehran regime has clearly shown by its actions that it has no intent whatever to co-operate in good faith with the IAEA. Not only is the regime taking steps to advance its enrichment programme by installing more advanced centrifuges; it is doing all it can to restrict the ability of IAEA inspectors to monitor its nuclear sites. It has turned off two devices that the agency relied on to monitor the enrichment of uranium gas at Natanz and initiated plans to remove 27 surveillance cameras from other nuclear facilities.

On 20 June, Reuters cited a confidential IAEA report, which revealed that:

“Iran is escalating its uranium enrichment further by preparing to use advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordow site that can more easily switch between enrichment levels”.

In a joint statement to the board of governors of the IAEA on 27 June, the UK, France and Germany expressed their concern about the continued nuclear activities in breach of the JCPOA. They pointed out that the alarming accumulation of enriched material is cause for great concern and is further reducing the time that it would take Iran to break out towards its first nuclear weapon.

The position, therefore, is that it is clearly known that Iran is taking active steps to produce highly enriched uranium, the only credible purpose of which can be to produce nuclear weapons. The question must be whether there is any purpose in continuing to urge Iran to fulfil its obligations under the JCPOA when it is perfectly clear that it has no intention whatever to do so. The continued efforts to engage with Iran and go the extra mile may be laudable, but, frankly, seem increasingly futile. Iran clearly regards the west as weak and is almost openly laughing at us.

A new course is called for. Consideration should be given to whether seeking to adhere to the JCPOA as the basis for our future dealings with Iran is realistic or sensible. Rather than clinging to vain hopes that Iran is capable of mending its ways and responding to the IAEA’s censure, the UK should work with the United States and other international partners to refer Iran to the UN Security Council with a view to reinstating the six sanctions-imposing resolutions that were suspended with the JCPOA’s initial implementation.

Iran must learn that flouting the JCPOA has real consequences, and the west should unite to apply the most intense pressure possible on Iran to wind up its nuclear programme, since it is now abundantly clear that it is not for any peaceful purpose, but is aggressive. Quite simply, Iran is a rogue state, and a rogue state in possession of nuclear weapons is not a prospect that the west can happily contemplate or, indeed, tolerate.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 1:22 pm, 30th June 2022

I thank Robert Jenrick for securing the debate and congratulate him on an excellent speech. In the interest of transparency, I am the chair of Labour Friends of Israel and a member of the British Committee for Iran Freedom.

I suspect that the outcome of the talks in Vienna will be crucial in shaping the future of the international community’s relations with Iran. Whatever that outcome, however, we must develop a clear-sighted and comprehensive strategy to tackle the challenges we face, including the many that the current talks are unlikely to resolve. As we have heard, the malign activities of those who control the Iranian regime extend far beyond its nuclear ambitions and include: its ballistic missile programme; support for terrorist proxies across the middle east; the dangerous influence and activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; Tehran’s insidious disinformation campaigns; its policy of state hostage taking; and the suffering of the Iranian people over four decades.

In the face of those challenges, the JCPOA, which was negotiated in 2015, looks pretty limited. Despite the name, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, it is clearly not comprehensive and, as we heard, it actually exacerbated certain problems by freeing up extra resources for the mullahs. The Trump Administration’s unilateral withdrawal in 2018 dealt a severe blow to the deal, but Iran’s record of systematically violating the agreement had already highlighted its inadequacy.

Those violations include, as we have heard, the decision to enrich uranium beyond the agreed cap and the deliberate obstruction of the IAEA inspectors. Iran had already made clear its contempt for the agreement by turning off some of the inspectors’ monitoring equipment. Officials said a couple of weeks ago that they expect to lose any continuity of knowledge regarding the progress of Iran’s activity because of the obstruction they are facing from it. Even if we had a deal up and running, the inspectors would not be able to do their job.

Some believe that a new agreement might provide a measure of medium-term restraint on Iran’s nuclear programme; others have their doubts. As we have heard, the Institute for Science and International Security has concluded that it is on the verge of obtaining the bomb. The appointment of Mohammad Eslami, the main liaison with Pakistani freelance nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, as the new head of Tehran’s Atomic Energy Organisation is the clearest signal we could have of Iran’s real intentions. That is why I am sceptical of the idea that those people will negotiate in good faith and keep their word.

As the LFI argues in its recent pamphlet on the subject, the UK needs to develop realistic strategies to address the nuclear threat and the other Iranian issues. Iran’s ballistic missile programme is the biggest in the middle east and makes it the first country to develop a missile with a 2,000 km range without having first developed nuclear capability. It is also the only country that routinely threatens to wipe another nation off the face of the map—the destruction of the state of Israel is the official policy of Iran’s leaders.

As we have heard, as well as threatening Israel’s existence, Iran is responsible for waging war, terrorism and violence—mostly through its proxies—in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and the Palestinian territories. The UK has rightly banned some of those proxies, but not all their front organisations. The Government should do more and look at proscribing Hezbollah and Hamas.

As we have also heard, Iran’s terrorist activities are supported by the regime’s ideological army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which not only leads on meddling in the region but brutally represses ordinary Iranians. Its influence has expanded rapidly in recent years, including over a variety of operations across Europe. I believe, as others do, that the UK should join our allies the United States and proscribe the IRGC for the dangerous terrorist group it is.

Iranian disinformation efforts, run by the IRGC, have significantly expanded since 2015. There is mounting evidence of interference in UK domestic politics, including last year’s Scottish Parliament elections. The UK Government should urgently draw up proposals for how they intend to combat and disrupt that interference.

Iran’s policy of arbitrarily detaining foreign nationals, most prominently Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, demands co-ordinated international action. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office must be bold enough to call this activity what it is—state hostage taking. We should use the UK’s position at the UN to lead and develop a proper response from the international community.

We should also never forget that the Iranian regime’s most long-standing and long-suffering victims are the Iranian people themselves. We can and should do more to support the victims of some of the most unimaginable human rights abuses. I think it is both curious and shocking that, nearly two years since it was established, the Magnitsky Act is yet to be applied to a single Iranian individual or entity. There are many Iranian politicians and officials guilty of human rights abuses, including prison governors, military personnel, regional governors and others. Ebrahim Raisi himself stands accused of being responsible for a programme of mass killings in Iran.

Whatever the outcome of the nuclear talks in Vienna, the threats posed by this regime to the Iranian people, the peoples of the middle east, our own country and democracies around the world will not go away. UK foreign policy should reflect the reality of the situation. Any revived JCPOA that only deals with the nuclear programme is probably not worth the paper it is written on. The desire of those who wish to resurrect the JCPOA should not detract from the urgent need to recognise and develop a smart, proportionate and comprehensive strategy to resist Iran’s terrorist activity around the globe.

Should it prove impossible to secure a satisfactory deal, which I think is pretty inevitable, I concur with Mr Jones that the UK and other western participants should refer the regime’s nuclear activities to the UN Security Council, and we should immediately seek to reinstate the six resolutions that were suspended in good faith because of the JCPOA.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire 1:31 pm, 30th June 2022

It is always a pleasure to follow Steve McCabe. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick on giving us this opportunity. I listened carefully to everything he said, and I agree with all of it.

In June 2019, I went to Tehran as Middle East Minister while Tehran was sinking shipping throughout the Gulf. I went there to remonstrate at its malign regional activities and to insist that it meet its JCPOA commitments, including the limits imposed on its enriched uranium stockpile. In hindsight, it was probably not the best use of my time; the truth is that the deal had been moribund since President Trump withdrew in 2018. Attempts to revive it have failed, and now it is comatose.

I suppose we should not turn off the life support entirely, but in my view we have no need to bust a gut trying to revive the plan. What we need is a stronger, longer deal. Indeed, with every day that passes, the JCPOA becomes less attractive: while Iran’s technical capabilities advance, the original terms become redundant and sunset clauses loom large. Some of those clauses have lapsed or shortly will—the UN arms embargo from October 2020; restrictions on ballistic missile-related goods next year; and, the year after, restrictions relating to Iran’s advanced centrifuge R&D. In 2031, the ban on weapons-grade uranium ends.

That said, we should not be seen to be a guilty party or a co-author of the plan’s coup de grâce. We have to stick with it, I suppose, to the bitter end. Iran too—at least, the potentially reconcilable part of it—wants to be perceived as keen to talk, but, with artful duplicity, says one thing and does another. The reported tenor of ongoing discussions is very much true to form. On Sunday, Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited poor Josep Borrell of the European Commission to Tehran. His plaintive line following the meeting was that

“the more supply of oil, the better for the energy prices.”

How pathetic is that? It looks as though the European External Action Service, in its quest for purpose and relevance, has been all too eager to swallow a pro-Iran line that conveniently gets its members out of a tight temporary fix. Not for the first time, it is grossly misreading the Iranians in a disappointing display of naivety and self-service.

Borrell’s line suggests that the EU is prepared to swap Russian for Iranian energy, so the Doha talks go on with the Americans and the Iranians, bizarrely, in separate rooms. The reality is that Iran’s demands for compensation and guarantees are intractable. Those who believe Iran will settle for a deal in order to trade with the west misread the ideological basis of the regime and its President. They seek nothing less than the complete Islamisation of society and the elimination of western influence. Tehran has no desire to be our partner, even less our friend. Let us be quite clear in separating the good and great people of Iran from the regime: the two are plainly different things, as recent shows of unrest have demonstrated, and we should encourage the one and not the other.

Meanwhile, Iran ratchets up its pressure on the international community through the expulsion of IAEA officials. The day after Borrell’s meeting in Tehran, it showcased a missile launch, and we contemplate a uranium breakout time probably in weeks, certainly not months. The Iran of 2022 is very different from the Iran of 2015. Hardliners and the IRGC have tightened their stranglehold over the state and the economy. President Raisi has populated Ministries with Guards commanders responsible for atrocious acts of terrorism. We recall, as has been recalled already today—correctly so—his participation in the 1988 death committee, and in the extrajudicial murder of some 4,000 political prisoners.

Sanctions work. Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change has revealed that, following the first wave of sanctions relief in 2014, Iran’s terrorist and military activity increased significantly. Kasra Aarabi writes:

“The number of militias created by the IRGC surged after this period, and the Guard’s presence abroad peaked, with the Quds Force expanding its operations in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”

If that occurred under the previous relatively benign regime, what effect will sanctions relief—estimated to mean an immediate $90 billion windfall, and as much as $800 billion over five years—have on the zealots now in control? I suggest that sanctions relief at this time would not be a good move at all.

US special envoy Rob Malley called for a “stronger and longer” deal shortly after his appointment, and he is right. Alternatively, we could offer less for less, but we cannot offer more for less. The integrated review points the way. It says:

“Alongside our allies, the UK will hold Iran to account for its nuclear activity, remaining open to talks on a more comprehensive nuclear and regional deal.”

There is no specific mention of the JCPOA, which is very sensible. If we managed to reheat the JCPOA in its current form, we would have a stop-gap agreement at best, but the prospects of definitive talks and a long-term solution led by Washington will evaporate. Iran expert Professor Ali Ansari suggests we play it cool, and I agree.

Although we should not be complacent, we should not be worried about a no-deal scenario. The Iranian regime is struggling to rid itself of Israeli infiltration, which is preventing it from advancing its nuclear apparatus and security state. We all remember the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last year. Most recently Hossein Taeb, IRGC head of intelligence, has been dismissed, and on 22 May IRGC colonel Sayyad Khodaei was shot dead outside his home.

Nobody goes to Iran without being lectured about Britain being the source of all the country’s woes; the grievance culture stoked by the regime makes the SNP look rather like rank amateurs. It is mildly flattering to think that Iran’s rulers believe we are still so influential, albeit in their minds entirely malignly. Historically, however, the villain has been seen to lie elsewhere. This debate takes place amid Putin’s imperial war. He invokes Peter the Great, by reclaiming lost territory and advancing autocracy. There is no doubt that revanchist Russia and Iran have grown closer under Putin’s leadership. It has developed from a transactional, military relationship to one of shared ideological outlook, in so far as both countries despise the western world order and its culture, have a theological sense of mission for their countries, and talk in Anglophobic terms of grievance and resistance. Their shared paranoia about democracy has grown collaboration and suppression at home—and also abroad, notably in Syria.

However, it has not always been so. Professor Ansari points out that

“the greatest sleight of hand achieved by the Russian state with respect to Iran has been to reinvent its relationship from that of imperial predator to a fully fledged member of an axis of resistance against the west.”

Indeed, there is a strong argument that Russia—certainly not Britain—has been the chief cause of historic Iranian humiliation, imposing capitulatory treaties in 1808 and 1828, which lasted until 1921. Nascent Iranian democracy was stamped out by Colonel Liakhov of the Cossack Brigade in the early 20th century, as he shelled the Majlis in Tehran and executed constitutionalists. The parallels with the present day are pretty clear.

Lord Curzon described “avowedly hostile” Russian activities in Iran, and pointed out that

“piece by piece, partly by open war and partly by furtive nibbling, Russia has appropriated more and more of Persian soil.”

There are historic continuities in the Iran-Russia relationship, namely in Iran’s junior status, and Iranian popular sentiment against Russia. The 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay ensured that Iran became a de facto vassal state, with strictures outlining Russia’s preference for the Qajar succession. Now, as then, Iran’s presidential candidates and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders court Putin for his approval. In line with that junior status, we learn from Minister Javad Zarif’s leaked audio tape on the war in Syria that Russia

“entered the war by air force, but dragged Iran’s ground force to war too. We didn’t have ground forces in Syria by then.”

It is a candid assessment of Putin’s disregard for Iranian life, and reluctance to spill blood when he can use those he sees as inferiors. We see that, too, in Putin’s feeding the Ukrainian meat grinder preferentially with troops from east of the Urals.

But if the regime wants that kind of partnership, the Iranian people do not. The popular mood in Iran is antithetical to the Russians; we have seen that most recently in protests against Russia’s invasion. Meanwhile, the regime blunders on, blaming NATO and the west, and defending Russia and the UN. Again, that bifurcation has precedent. An Iranian member of the Majlis once wrote of the

“dislike of the Persian people for the Russians,” which was based on

“wars…cruelty and aggression…encouragement given by them to the extravagancies of the Persian court…the ascendency they had gained by promising to maintain the succession…the many concessions they had obtained from the Persian Government…the undue influence exerted by them.”

He concludes that Russia is

“the home and centre of autocracy and ancient foe of all liberal ideas.”

That was more than 100 years ago, but it resonates with us today. That is why it is so important—so imperative—for us to call this partnership out, reveal its weak foundations, learn from the past, and support the good and great people of Iran in their struggle against a wicked regime.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 1:43 pm, 30th June 2022

It is a real pleasure to follow Dr Murrison, and I thank him for his contribution. I also thank Robert Jenrick for setting the scene so very well, and other hon. Members for their contributions. It is good to see the House united, by and large, in the statements we try to make.

I have spoken about the complexities of the Iranian nuclear question on a number of occasions, and it is clear that we are fast coming to the stage at which we will need to do more than simply discuss or debate it in this House. We must register our concerns, but we need to act, and act urgently. I said the same thing six months ago, and I reiterate it today. Let me put it on the record that I am unashamedly a friend of Israel. I was a member of the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel group when I served in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I am a member of the Friends of Israel here in this great House. I also have a close working relationship with the Iranian Government in exile, to which Steve McCabe referred earlier. That is a good working relationship, and an opportunity to hear about human rights abuses and deprivations, which I will mention later.

There are many in the world who despair at the actions of Iran. On 8 June, the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution introduced by the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, censuring the regime in Tehran for non co-operation with the agency’s inquiry into nuclear traces found at three undeclared sites. Iran has a blatant disregard for democracy, freedom, and liberty, and for truth and honesty—it is as simple as that. They will tell lies ‘til the cows come home, as we often say. Indeed, the authorities in Tehran rejected the draft of that resolution, even before it was adopted. The May 2022 IAEA report, perhaps the most detailed and damning since its November 2011 report, made it clear that the regime had not been entirely open and honourable—what a surprise. I have heard it characterised as playing games with the agency. It did, and it must be made accountable for that.

Other Members have referred to the three locations that the IAEA had requested to visit. The regime razed the buildings, and removed structure and soil, yet the IAEA still found traces of nuclear material. The regime did not do the job terribly well, and that badly executed cover-up left an evidential base, which tells us as much as any sample could ever have told us. Action is needed as soon as possible. There are actions that have taken place that the regime does not want us to know about, and in light of the IAEA’s report stating that it has not provided explanations that are technically credible in relation to the agency’s findings at those locations, the only conclusion is that actions have been carried out contrary to the agreement. Again, that must be addressed.

I am pleased to see the Minister and the shadow Minister in their place, and I ask this: is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action dead, as the regime continues its nuclear provocations and breaches? Perhaps the Minister will answer that when he winds up the debate. Although the IAEA’s position had already come to be regarded as a potentially insurmountable obstacle to the JCPoA’s revival, each of the participants in that agreement remained unwilling to abandon the negotiations.

That situation did not immediately change in the wake of the IAEA board of governors resolution. Tehran even appeared to test that reaction before the censure was formally adopted, turning off two monitoring devices that the IAEA relied on for monitoring the enrichment of uranium gas at the Natanz nuclear facility. The measure was accompanied by a statement from the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, urging western nations to “come to their senses”—perhaps it is time for Iran to come to its senses and see that it is time for decency, honesty and truth, and for it to drop the censure.

When that did not happen, the AEOI initiated plans to remove 27 surveillance cameras from several nuclear facilities. Many commentators described Tehran’s reactions as a final or fatal blow to the JCPoA. Those changes come at a time when Iran is already planning to install two new cascades of advanced enrichment centrifuges at Natanz, which could substantially speed up the rate at which uranium is enriched to Iran’s current high level of 60% purity, and potentially beyond that, even to 90%, or to weapons-grade. That should reiterate to all Members of the House that time is of the essence, time is short, and we cannot wait to take action.

On Monday 20 June, Reuters news agency, citing a confidential IAEA report that it had seen, reported:

“Iran is escalating its uranium enrichment further by preparing to use advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground Fordow site that can more easily switch between enrichment levels.”

Again, that is a very worrying development that we must be aware of and concerned about. According to Reuters:

“IAEA inspectors verified on Saturday that Iran was ready to feed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the material centrifuges enrich, into the second of two cascades, or clusters, of IR-6 centrifuges installed at Fordow, a site dug into mountain, the confidential IAEA report to member states said.”

The work was done on a mountain, in easily hidden places and under darkness.

On 7 June, in a joint statement to the IAEA board of governors addressing the regime’s implementation of its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA, the United Kingdom, France and Germany said:

“We are deeply concerned about the continued nuclear advances that the Director General documents in his report. As a result of Iran’s nuclear activities in violation of the JCPOA for more than three years, its nuclear programme is now more advanced than at any point in the past. This is threatening international security and risks undermining the global nonproliferation regime.”

The risk is at its highest ever. The axis of evil of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran threaten the very stability of the world. It is time, as others have said, to refer the matter to the UN, which is the body responsible, and it is time for a collective response. The world must unite against Iran. It is, as has been said, a rogue state that must be controlled. It cannot be allowed to roam free. Iran has disregard for human decency, as we all know.

In Iran, we witness some of the worst human rights abuses in any part of the world—I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, which I have a particular interest in—with the persecution of Christians and of Baha’is. It is also about the rights of women to be women and to have freedom and liberty, but in Iran they face acid attacks on a daily basis. It has high rates of poverty and deprivation, yet it seems to find immense amounts of money to spend on its defence and nuclear programmes. Iran sponsors terrorism across the world and is involved in terrorism in the middle east, in the far east and elsewhere. It is time to bring it to book for what it does.

The dire situation could not be clearer, so our corresponding action must be just as clear, firm and immediate. I respectfully ask the Minister and her Department to act appropriately. I am keen to hear what more action we can take. Strongly worded statements are not enough. It is vital for the future of the planet and this world that nuclear arms are kept away from unstable nations and Governments such as those in Iran who have proven themselves not to be honest and open when it comes to their aims. Iran seeks the wanton destruction of Israel and other parts of the western world. We need to be vigilant, prepared and ready. We look to our Minister for a satisfactory response.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I rise to correct a name that I gave wrongly in my speech. I said that Anoosheh Ashoori was in detention, but I was wrong to do so. The names that I wanted on the record were Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz, who are in detention, and I obviously support a campaign for their release.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for having taken steps to correct the record immediately he realised there had been a mistake. The record now stands corrected.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons)

Before I call the next Member, I inform Members that if they were to take between seven and eight minutes—or less—for their speeches, we would not need a time limit and this reasonable, balanced and informative debate would conclude at about 3 o’clock, or just before then, which is about the right time. The hon. Gentlemen who seek to catch my eye are all experienced enough to make their remarks fit that seven-to-eight-minute limit.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 1:54 pm, 30th June 2022

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me quickly congratulate my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick on an excellent speech and on securing the debate. It is important that we have the debate at this time.

If we look around the world today, we see that we live in extraordinarily dangerous times. We see the threat of terrorism at home and abroad and democracies being invaded. We have an increasingly emboldened China on the rise, and ever sophisticated cyber-threats from highly trained state operatives. But of all the threats that we face, a nuclear weapon in the wrong hands represents one of the gravest. As US President Obama once said, our scientific advances have enabled us

“to communicate across the seas and fly above the clouds,” but they have also unleashed some of the most destructive and deadly weaponry imaginable. We must understand that threat and face it rather than shy away from the difficult decisions needed to keep us safe.

Close observers of the recent talks will tell us that negotiations have not exactly been going smoothly, but, as my right hon. Friend said, it is important that we have the opportunity to talk in this House about the threats that we feel Iran poses and why some of us are cautious about a deal, and to offer a view on what terms such a deal should take, if indeed we are to have one. Let me do that.

A nuclear Iran is a clear threat to peace and the world order. Iran has made clear its views on Israel’s mere existence and, obviously, a direct nuclear attack on Israel would become a real possibility. A nuclear-armed Iran would also be emboldened to increase its support for terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Regardless of how Iran may behave as a nuclear power, it could spur other regional rivals to seek out a bomb in response. The Government are right, therefore, always to be looking to prevent further development of Iran’s nuclear capability. However, there is clearly concern that, compared with 2015, Iran’s programme is more advanced and its leadership and priorities are different.

Sanctions do work, and they do hurt—Iran has about 40% inflation and millions live below the poverty line—but, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, Iran has done tremendously well out of oil sales. The Iranian central bank estimates that those were worth $18 billion in just the first half of the Persian year. Its economic motivations are therefore perhaps not as strong as they were previously, and that is why we should proceed cautiously with new talks.

For any agreement, you need trust, and lately Iran’s actions seem to demonstrate a lack of interest in building trust. It says that its nuclear ambitions and intentions are entirely for civilian purposes, as my right hon. Friend Mr Jones said in his excellent speech. So why has it enriched to 60%? Why has it turned off 27 surveillance cameras? Why has it developed uranium metal, which has no civilian use but lots of use in developing nuclear weapons? All the while, as my hon. Friend Bob Blackman said, it has developed a significant ballistic missile programme, and it has had the gall to call for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be declassified as a terrorist organisation. Those are not the actions of a state willing to engage in peace talks or one that seeks to build trust with anyone.

Of course, I understand the motivations to engage with Iran, and we should try everything that we can to limit its ambitions. Put simply, we need greater restrictions if we are to have an agreement. We need a commitment from it to cease the production and installation of advanced centrifuges and the removal of enriched uranium as well as non-nuclear commitments that the so-called comprehensive agreement did not cover to end its ballistic missile programme and to cease funding terrorist organisations. Otherwise, we face bolstering Iran at a time when we should be restricting it.

Let it be said that I have put my views and concerns on the record. I genuinely wish the Government and the ministerial team well in tackling this great issue.

Let me conclude philosophically by saying that it is a great pleasure to be talking about this and Britain’s role in it at a time when people question Britain’s place in the world. We should never forget that this country represents just 0.8% of the global population, yet we have a seat at all the major international, multinational and security tables, including the G7, the International Monetary Fund, the JCPOA and the United Nations Security Council. We are one of the few nuclear powers in the world. So let it be said that we have a role to play in ensuring the security of our world and our people. I hope that the Government will take that responsibility as it relates to Iran very seriously.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 2:00 pm, 30th June 2022

I thank my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick for this debate—it has certainly been a long time coming—on an issue of concern to many of us in this House. I pay tribute to him for his efforts in securing it. The contributions of all Members have been not only well reasoned but very constructive. Jeremy Corbyn raised issues that perhaps we do not all agree with, but it is important for us to consider them as part of today’s discussion.

The spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran has been looming for several years, and it presents a profound threat to our collective way of life. Only last night I gave a speech to the National Jewish Assembly, where I was asked at what point the United Kingdom would step in to stop the emergence of a nuclear Iran. I have to say that, if we fail to take action now, our later options will be a lot more extreme. The moment to take the appropriate action, under the JCPOA, is now.

It is almost unthinkable that the world’s greatest sponsor of state terrorism could be on the nuclear threshold, but that is the reality. Two of today’s speakers have mentioned Ahmadinejad saying that he would like to wipe Israel off the map, which could be taken in two ways. I think he was being provocative while at the same time speaking politically. The issue of the JCPOA and a nuclear Iran is not about Israel and Iran. It is not even about Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. It is about the Twelver Muslims, who have a different ideology and view of the world, which they would like to see adopted by other Muslim countries, and they would certainly like to see it in the western hemisphere as well.

This fundamentalist regime is responsible for the most heinous human rights abuses, both at home in Iran and, indeed, abroad. It is a regime that is committed to exporting violent ideology across the world, that has reneged on repeated commitments to the international community, and that has been found guilty in European courts of orchestrating terrorist events. I have mentioned previously that those terrorist events included the possibility of five parliamentarians—two of us are sitting here today—being subject to the violence and destruction orchestrated and founded by Tehran.

The entire integrity of the JCPOA and its ability to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been called into question by several of us for many years. Originally, we were concerned that there were no clauses in the JCPOA requiring Iran to stop transferring funds to terrorist proxies. It certainly did not seek an end to domestic human rights abuses in the country, or to end the testing of the ballistic missile programme. Those were all structural weaknesses of the JCPOA and we were very concerned about that.

It is not just centre-right politicians in the United Kingdom and the United States who are concerned about this issue. Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently questioned why his own Administration were trying to return to the JCPOA when it was

“not sufficient in the first place—and still doesn’t address some of the most serious national security concerns we have.”

He is by no means alone in reaching such a conclusion.

It is an inescapable reality that Iran’s systematic non-compliance with the JCPOA nuclear deal has rendered it dead, despite the efforts of the US and the E3 to resuscitate it. Yet all the available evidence suggests that the E3 and the US remain committed, albeit perhaps forlornly, to desperately resuscitating the 2015 framework. There seems to be no plan B under consideration.

The reported terms of the renewed nuclear agreement make for alarming reading. Not only will it leave much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact; it will also receive enormous sanctions relief. It is clear that this will again fail to provide a long-term, sustainable answer to Iran’s belligerent nuclear actions.

The great risk is that, in the absence of an ambitious, broad and punitive nuclear framework, Iran will become a nuclear-armed state in a matter of years—perhaps just three. Buying time is not a viable strategy for the UK Government. At some point, the international community is likely to be faced with an Iranian regime arming itself with a nuclear weapon. We will have far fewer options in tackling that scenario than we do today.

The lesson that we learned from Iraq is that we do not invade sovereign states without a plan, so our plan must be formed now. If we are to avoid military action of any kind, we must seek an assurance from the Iranians that they will abide with an agreement.

One of the other great weaknesses of the JCPOA was its failure to address Iran’s blatant arming and funding of its terrorist proxies. That led directly to the conflicts in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and other parts of the world. That was hard to stomach at the time and we need to address it again today.

We cannot allow funds, resources, men, manpower and money to go into furthering conflicts around the world. That would not only provoke greater incivility but provide more impetus for migration and create evermore refugees in the international community. We would be assisting in that objective, and we must stop it. These terror groups are primed to unleash, at any second, horrific violence against civilian targets across the world, all at the behest of their Iranian paymasters.

In her summing up, will the Minister provide justification for why we appear to be compounding the great mistakes of the previous agreement in 2015? Will she assure us that she is making it a priority to tackle this issue? I join colleagues in asking her to consider proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. At the very least, we owe that to the British victims of that organisation.

I have previously welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to

“work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power.”

I hope that she will keep up that commitment, but does the Minister believe that the deal under consideration is truly capable of preventing Iran from getting its hands on the most devastating weapons known to man? In the event of a new JCPOA, can the Minister outline what further steps will be taken to build on what has clearly become a limited and ineffective mechanism?

Time is upon us, and history will judge us for the decisions we make today and on any future agreement. For the safety and security of not only the middle east but the wider world, we must do the right thing. That may be a hard decision, and it may be a difficult process, but failure to do so could ultimately lead to greater conflict.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 2:08 pm, 30th June 2022

I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick and, indeed, Steve McCabe on sponsoring this debate and allowing us to have our say as Back Benchers.

It is clear that we are seeking to challenge Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons. Given that the current President of the United States was Vice President during President Obama’s regime, which led to the JCPOA in the first place, it is no surprise that he will seek to resuscitate the deal struck at that time. However, we have to face up to facts, and the first fact is that, even if Iran has not acquired nuclear weapons, it is closer than ever before to achieving that aim. The UK and other participants in the JCPOA must insist on dealing with this new dangerous threshold, with many experts predicting that Iran could have a nuclear weapon within weeks. At the same time, the regime is announcing further steps to decrease co-operation with the IAEA and continuing its nuclear provocations in breach of the JCPOA. None of those activities has any credible civilian justification, according to the UK, France and Germany.

The regime’s nuclear advances are dangerous and illegal. The existing nuclear deal has proven to be totally and utterly inadequate and it has done nothing to end the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the UK’s softline approach has only emboldened the regime to continue its illegal nuclear provocations with impunity. It is therefore time for the UK and the rest of the west to adopt a firm policy towards the regime in Iran that holds Tehran accountable for its nuclear provocations rather than rewarding it with more sanctions relief, as has been suggested.

The UK and other western participants in the JCPOA must abandon their flawed approach to the nuclear deal and, as colleagues have mentioned, refer the regime’s nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council and reinstate previous UN Security Council resolutions that were suspended by the JCPOA. In fact, at the time that the sanctions were starting to bite and have an impact, we removed them.

Given the time restrictions, I will not go through my dossier of JCPOA violations that Iran has committed. I declare up front my interest as chairman of the all-party Britain-Israel parliamentary group, as an officer of Conservative Friends of Israel and as a very strong supporter of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the resistance movement in Iran, which seeks to democratise Iran and restore freedom and democracy to it, as should be the case. I will concentrate my remarks not only on preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapon status, but on Iran’s key motivation of providing strategic protection for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Any debate on ending Iranian aggression must include provisions for combating the IRGC. If we do not proscribe that organisation now, its threat will become only greater if Iran becomes a nuclear state. The reality is that, if Iran becomes a nuclear state, it will have the shield to use the IRGC to spread terrorism not just around the region, but around the world, and it will do so with impunity.

Iran is the world’s premier supporter of terror. The IRGC was rightfully proscribed by the United States in 2019 and I, like others, have been worried that the US is considering delisting it at Iran’s request. Far from delisting it, the United Kingdom should proscribe the IRGC, as should the rest of the west. However, despite the fact that one of our closest allies proscribed the revolutionary guard corps, we continue to drag our heels while Iran’s spider web of terror stretches across the middle east and beyond and begins to grasp at Europe, on our doorstep.

For those who are unfamiliar with the revolutionary guard corps, I will set out its pattern of supporting terror and spreading instability and its authoritarian grip over the people of Iran. The revolutionary guard corps openly supports Hezbollah by providing financial assistance, weapons, ammunition and military training. Hezbollah has reportedly acquired 150,000 missiles—I repeat: 150,000 missiles, targeted at Israel alone—and Iran continues to attempt deliveries of weaponry to the proxy to threaten others in the region.

The al-Ashtar Brigades is another IRGC-directed terror group. It has claimed responsibility for—rather, admitted to—several terror attacks in Bahrain and often calls for attacks against the British Government on social media. That brings this home: not only is this about other states in the middle east, but the British Government and the British people are under direct threat from the IRGC.

These terror groups are rightfully already proscribed by Britain, but we do not hold the organisation that funds and directs them to the same account. In 2009, it was reported that the IRGC was linked to the kidnapping of five Britons in Iraq, three of whom were murdered. One of the surviving hostages, Peter Moore, was kidnapped due to his work installing a system that would allow the Iraqi Government to understand how much international aid was being funnelled to Iran’s terror groups in Iraq.

More recently, although Britain stands steadfast with the people of Ukraine, reports indicate that the IRGC-controlled airline Qeshm Fars Air has made a minimum of seven flights to Moscow since April. According to retired US Admiral Craig Faller, it is likely that the airline is used by Iran to transport military aid and personnel. Given US reports in March that Russia was attempting to bolster its forces with Syrian mercenaries, is it not conceivable that the revolutionary guard corps is aiding the Russian invasion by transporting those troops and undermining British efforts to protect Ukrainian sovereignty?

The revolutionary guard corps has grown to have a powerful grasp over almost every aspect of Iranian life. It is holding the people of Iran hostage in their country. The decent people of Iran wish to see the country return to a positive role in the international community. I note the remarks of Jeremy Corbyn, whom I rarely agree with, but the fact is that the decent people of Iran want a return to the norm in the international community and not to be a country that acts as a terror-supporting pariah state.

We must show the Iranian people that we are willing to hold the IRGC accountable for its nefarious activities in ways that the moderates of Iran cannot for fear of death and destruction. I simply ask the Minister: how many more terrorists must the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fund, how many more innocents must die, and how many more must it kidnap before we finally proscribe it as a terror organisation?

Over the past few weeks, I have been inundated by emails from constituents calling on the Home Office to proscribe the IRGC in its entirety and to sequestrate its assets. I say to people listening out there: please bombard the Home Office with emails requesting that action to be taken—[Interruption.] No, the Home Office, because it does the proscription—that is key. We can therefore build the campaign to ensure—[Interruption.] I completely accept that the Minister cannot respond to this now, but my message, clearly, to the Home Secretary and colleagues is this: let us proscribe the IRGC in its entirety. Let us build the campaign across the United Kingdom to make that happen, so that the people of Britain can speak up for the moderate people of Iran and free them from that terrorist regime.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2:17 pm, 30th June 2022

Time is short and we need to progress to the end of this debate, so I will be brief and offer a pragmatic view. I have listened with great interest to Members on both sides of the House and I broadly support the direction of travel. Of course, we are yet to hear from the Minister.

Of most concern to me is that the time needed to produce uranium for one nuclear weapon in Iran is now three weeks. That is called the break-out time and it has fallen from one year. Clearly, the nuclear aspirations, technologies and advancements have progressed significantly in Iran. I want to pose this question: how might the UK and other allied states in the middle east put Iran back on the road to peace and prosperity as part of the international community? However, this is also about working with Iran and doing what we can to help that regime.

The big question is about the restoration of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA, which has been mentioned. That was agreed with world powers, including China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA. As we know, the accord was unilaterally abandoned by the US in 2018 under Trump, who then imposed heavy sanctions on Iran. Those have been eased since Biden came into office, but this perhaps put Iran closer than ever to achieving nuclear power. Since 2020, talks have been revived, but only intermittently, so we need the US fully engaged again. Thankfully, indirect talks between Iran and the US began on 29 June in Qatar, with the EU mediating. All sides are agreed that a restored deal is the best outcome, but such a deal could still legitimise Iran’s nuclear transgressions. I am also told by some sources that a successful deal may bring Iranian oil back to the market, but, for the reasons outlined so eloquently by my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, I do not subscribe to that view, although I recognise the counter-arguments.

So where are we? Earlier this month, in response to a resolution introduced by the US, France, the UK and Germany censuring Iran, it took down 27 IAEA cameras, making tracking activity at its nuclear sites much harder. Iran has never been closer to a nuclear weapon. The stockpile today is 18 times the limit agreed in 2015. Iran has a missile capability—we know that—and in March 2022 the IRGC adopted a new independent branch called the Command for the Protection and Security of Nuclear Centres, so developments are worrying.

My first question to the Minister is whether we think that sanctions work—I think they probably do, for reasons outlined this afternoon—or whether they are redundant. Is a restored deal the best option for now, noting that Iran is doing this anyway? We know that Iran has committed nuclear transgressions since the 2015 deal. What assessment has been made of the viability of a renewed JCPOA in preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability—again, noting that it is happening anyway?

We know that the sunset provisions of the 2015 deal are coming up to their expiration date. We also know that the international community could face either having to accept Iran as a nuclear power or, potentially, undertaking military action. That is a very stark choice. How much would we have to compromise to renew a deal that would prevent Iran from getting a weapon, noting that Iran is very close to getting that weapon?

For what it is worth, my take is that Iran should come back into the international community, as we do not want it to progress its activities alongside rogue states. But at what price? We need to better understand the relationship between Iran and its neighbours in the middle east; we also need to better understand the position of our allies in the middle east, to ensure that their needs are best met.

I suspect that it is pragmatic at this stage to call on the Government to extend the sunset clauses, enact a stricter monitoring regime, retain terrorist proscriptions, reinforce existing friendships and relationships with allies in the middle east and press against Iran’s destabilising impacts in the region, but I would want to see a way forward in which Iran is at the table as part of a solution. But, of course, nothing should be off the table.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 2:23 pm, 30th June 2022

I congratulate Robert Jenrick on bringing this debate to the House, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for ensuring that it could happen. There has been an awful lot of accord across the House today; it seems that we are all raising similar concerns and we are all keen to find a way forward. It is not quite a matter of semantics, but perhaps there is just a slight disagreement about the way forward and the best way to tackle the issue.

The joint comprehensive plan of action was never ideal, but it was better than no deal and we need to recognise that it was a major diplomatic achievement. The SNP joins Members across the House who have called for Iran to halt its activities that are in violation of the JCPOA. We hope to see detailed, precise and deep talks this week. There is an urgent need for a diplomatic solution and an urgent need to end Iran’s nuclear escalation.

We agree with the concerns that have been raised about Iran’s stated intention to end all JCPOA-related transparency measures and about the action that it has already taken in that regard. Transparency is incredibly important, and any future deal needs to put that at the heart of the agreements made.

There are other risks that have not been mentioned in the Chamber today. Bilateral work on tackling climate change and on tackling the Afghan refugee crisis is currently on ice because of the present situation. Regardless of escalation and nuclear uranium enrichment, the climate crisis and the Afghan refugee crisis are not going away. We must work to tackle them. As several hon. Members have said, we must ensure that we put people at the heart of our approach and that we work to improve human rights in the region, as well as ensuring that the people of Iran are decoupled from the action of their Government and given the opportunity to flourish.

We agree with the calls for the UK to use our place to press the regime—and to press all regimes that have issues with human rights or are committing human rights abuses, whether that is Iran, Saudi, Russia or any of the countries committing human rights abuses against their citizens or citizens of other countries.

I criticise the unilateral actions that Donald Trump took, on the basis that taking unilateral action on this is not the way forward. The way forward is for everybody to work together as international partners to get a settlement. The reality is that the situation is potentially worse than it could have been if those unilateral actions had not been taken. It is better to act in concert.

We welcome President Biden’s commitment not just to returning to the deal, but to strengthen the areas in which it is defective and extend the JCPOA. I have not much mentioned wider regional security, but we need to ensure that action is taken and that there is international co-operation with respect to Iran’s issues, its causing of regional instability and the actions that it is taking to destabilise countries around the world, as several contributors to the debate have mentioned. That needs to be a matter of priority.

As somebody who believes that we should not have nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, I am massively concerned to see the upscaling of Iran’s potential nuclear capabilities. We need to ensure that talks happen, whether that is around the table this week or in some future round of talks. We need to ensure that the UK’s international power is used to put pressure on, and to de-escalate the situation as quickly and as properly as we possibly can.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs) 2:28 pm, 30th June 2022

I thank Robert Jenrick and my hon. Friend Steve McCabe for securing this excellent and important debate, and hon. Members across the House who have contributed to it.

The JCPOA was a landmark agreement. Labour fully supported the Vienna negotiations aimed at restoring it. We remain hopeful that a way forward can be found, including in the latest rounds of talks in Doha, co-ordinated by the European Union. It is absolutely right that the UK Government engage with those negotiations. We continue to believe that the JCPOA framework remains the best option to limit Iran’s nuclear programme, based on restoring Iranian compliance in exchange for sanctions relief. A pragmatic approach should be pursued, as James Sunderland said, and it is important that the US engages with Iran as part of the diplomatic process to restore the JCPOA.

In the short term, pressure must be applied on Tehran to reverse its enrichment programme so that it is within the limits of the initial agreement. Iran must also refrain from further steps that would reduce the possibility of a return to that agreement. In the longer term, however, the UK Government must show leadership. Our aims should be not just to restore the JCPOA, but to address the long-standing issues and other aspects of the Iranian Government’s actions that cause serious concern. These include much more than restricting and monitoring the country’s nuclear capability, important though that is. I note that Dr Murrison has called for a “stronger, longer deal”. Indeed, we are greatly worried about the destabilising influence of Iran, which poses a serious threat to security in the region. That is why I believe we must do more to hold the Iranian regime to account.

In 2018, as we know, the Trump Administration withdrew the US from the JCPOA. It was completely wrong for the US to walk away from the agreement and reimpose sanctions. That decision was taken without support from the other signatories to the deal, including the UK, and the reckless action of the US Government at the time has been deeply damaging. Since the American withdrawal from the JCPOA, Iran has flagrantly violated the agreement’s terms. It has pursued a dangerous path of non-compliance. It has increased the quality and quantity of its enriched uranium production far beyond the JCPOA limits.

As Jim Shannon and Mr Jones have pointed out today, Tehran’s persistent refusal to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog, in matters including its inquiry into prior nuclear activities, signals Iran’s lack of transparency while it continues to increase its nuclear capability. For example, the IAEA has reported that Iran is enriching uranium up to 60% to produce highly enriched uranium, and in August 2021 the IAEA verified that it had begun producing uranium metal, which has little civilian purpose and is applicable to nuclear weapons development. As we heard from Gareth Davies, nuclear weapons in the wrong hands are the gravest of all threats.

Earlier this month, the IAEA announced that Iran was removing 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites in what has been described as a “fatal blow” to the JCPOA and the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear programme. As Iran continues to escalate its nuclear activities, we believe that the IAEA’s inspection ability must be strengthened, and I would be keen to hear more from the Minister about the steps that the UK Government are taking to support the strengthening of the IAEA as a matter of urgency.

More widely, we know that the Vienna talks have stalled since March, not least owing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I would like to hear the Minister’s view on the consequences of the invasion for the future viability of the E3+3 format, which has been the basis for negotiations with Iran for more than 15 years. We also know that Iran is currently holding up conclusion of the agreement, which would return it to its JCPOA commitments and restore US involvement in the deal. As has been noted, a new round of talks is under way in Qatar, and we welcome that, but we cannot underestimate the challenges and the importance of securing an agreement.

There has been increasing frustration with the Iranian intransigence that has been seen in these negotiations, and concerns remain that the regime is attempting to gain leverage for future negotiations while advancing its nuclear knowledge as talks are stalled. As was pointed out by Bob Blackman, this may mean that at some point on its current trajectory, Iran will soon make irreversible nuclear progress, rendering the benefits of returning it to its JCPOA commitments meaningless. That is incredibly concerning. It remains our steadfast hope that a compromise can be found that will allow for the restoration of the nuclear agreement, which could then serve as a basis for addressing many other concerns.

We cannot talk about Iran without discussing wider issues, many of which have been rightly raised by other Members today. Although the JCPOA is a critical agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capability, it does not address Tehran’s ballistic missiles programme, which is designed to deliver nuclear weapons, or its support for terrorist groups and militias throughout the middle east, including Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. That was mentioned by Dr Offord.

These issues need to be addressed, and the Labour Party believes it is imperative to move them up the international agenda. We are seriously concerned about the threats that Iran has made against Israel. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak referred to Iran’s stated desire to see Israel’s destruction. Moreover, the JCPOA does not hold Iran to account for its human rights violations against its own people, or for its continued engagement in state hostage-taking—an issue of which we in the House are acutely aware.

As was pointed out by Jeremy Corbyn, Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz remain in Iran despite the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori earlier this year. It is shameful that the Iranian regime continues to use the two remaining hostages as political pawns, and the UK Government must do everything possible to ensure their safe return home to the UK, as their families were promised.

As for the wider nuclear issues, we believe there is an opportunity for the UK to take a leadership role at the upcoming nuclear non-proliferation treaty review conference. The outlook at present is not good. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has closed the space for dialogue on critical issues involving arms control, transparency and confidence-building. The flagrant violations of the Budapest memorandum send a dangerous message. Proliferation risks are very significant. There are also many crucial new issues that need to be addressed, including threats of emerging technology, especially in the domains of cyber and space. I urge the Minister to update the House on the UK’s priorities for the conference in August, and on how the UK can lead from the front on these matters internationally.

If diplomacy and efforts to restore the JCPOA fail, the consequences may be severe. The return of sanctions, a rapid expansion of Iranian nuclear activity, and a heightened risk of military tension in the region are likely outcomes. As we have heard from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House today, there is broad agreement that the restoration of the JCPOA would be an important step, and I therefore ask the Government to continue to pursue every possible avenue diplomatically to help to promote and restore the nuclear deal with Iran. However, it is not the only step, and it should not be the only aim. We must continue to support our international partners, including Israel, by holding the regime to account, and we must ensure that the wider issues that I, and many others, have mentioned today are not left unaddressed by the UK and our international allies.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 2:36 pm, 30th June 2022

I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick and Steve McCabe for securing this important debate. I share their grave concerns, and those of many Members, about the potential for a nuclear armed Iran.

In his opening remarks, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark said that it was important for the Government to listen to what Members say about this subject. We are listening, and it is my pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government. I am also grateful for the contributions of the other Members who have spoken, and I will try to respond to many of the points that have been raised.

Time after time, we have seen Iran take actions that directly undermine global security, freedom and democracy, and challenge the international order. The UK is taking a tough stance: Iran must end its threatening behaviour and destabilising regional activity, and must also return to its JCPOA commitments.

Iran’s nuclear programme has never been more advanced than it is today, and our objective remains to ensure that the country never acquires a nuclear weapon. The escalation of its nuclear activities is threatening regional and international peace and security, and undermining the global non-proliferation system. Along with our partners, the United Kingdom has worked intensively to find a diplomatic solution. Over the last year we have worked alongside Germany, France, the United States and others to find a solution that would return Iran to compliance with its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA.

In March 2022, we left Vienna after reaching the end of talks. At that point there was a viable deal on the table that would return Iran to compliance with its commitments and return the US to the deal, reversing Iran’s nuclear escalation and lifting US sanctions related to the JCPOA. Iran has not accepted the deal, and time is running out. Iran should urgently take the offer on the table; there will not be a better one.

I agree that the JCPOA is not perfect, but it does represent a pathway for constraining Iran’s nuclear programme. A restored JCPOA would provide a foundation for international diplomatic efforts to ensure that Iran’s nuclear programme remained peaceful in the long-term. As my hon. Friend Dr Offord, my right hon. Friend Jim Shannon pointed out, there are some issues regarding sunset provisions. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak also mentioned the switching off of the cameras, as did my hon. Friend James Sunderland.

I want to make it clear that if Iran returns to the JCPOA, our priority is the extension of the sunset clauses and enabling a stricter monitoring regime. Should the JCPOA collapse, however, we will consider all options in partnership with our allies. Let me repeat that: if a deal is not struck soon the JCPOA will collapse, and in that scenario we will carefully consider all our options in partnership with our allies. Those options may include new sanctions. I accept that the JCPOA does not address wider regional security issues, but a return to the deal would contribute positively to regional prosperity and security in the middle east and could pave the way for further discussions on regional and security concerns.

Iran must stop its destabilising behaviour. We believe it is important to encourage Iran to take a more constructive approach to its relationship with its neighbours. The UK has long made clear our concern about Iran’s reckless destabilising activity in the region, including the political, financial and military support that it gives to militants and proscribed terrorist groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, to militias in Iraq and to the Houthis in Yemen.

Iran’s support for these groups and activities risks the security and prosperity in the region. They pose a direct threat to the UK and to our interests as well as to the safety of our allies. Regional security and that of our allies remains one of our top concerns, and we are working with allies to constrain Iran’s ability to conduct destabilising activities in the region. We will continue to do so, whether or not a deal is signed.

We will continue our work with allies and partners to hold Iran to account for breaches of UN security resolutions. That includes supporting enforcement of UN prohibitions on the proliferation of weapons to non-state actors in the region, including to Hezbollah and to the Houthis in Yemen. We continue to build on the existing co-operation between the UK and our partners to counter the activities of Iran and its proxies in the region, including in our work to support stability in Iraq and to end the conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon mentioned the Paris bomb plot and his experiences at that time. The UK Government always strongly condemn the targeting of civilians and we welcome the fact that those responsible for that plot in Paris in 2018 have been held to account. We also welcome the work by the Belgian courts in convicting four individuals last year, including Asadollah Asadi, who received a 20-year sentence.

The integrated review outlines our contribution to maritime security, upholding the principle of freedom of navigation. The UK is working to ensure the safety of shipping in the middle east, including in the Strait of Hormuz. We deter Iran from disrupting maritime security through our contributions to the international maritime security construct and the combined maritime forces.

A number of Members mentioned sanctions. The UK continues to maintain a range of sanctions aimed at addressing Iran’s destabilising behaviour. We have over 200 sanctions designations in place. Those include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and sanctions related to human rights, proliferation and terrorism.

My hon. Friend Bob Blackman and others spoke in detail about the IRGC. We have made clear our concerns about its continuing destabilising activity throughout the region, and we maintain a range of sanctions that are working to constrain that activity. The list of proscribed organisations is kept under constant review, but we do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is under consideration for proscription so I cannot comment on that; I know that my hon. Friend understands the reasons why.

A number of Members spoke about those who have been detained, and in particular about Morad Tahbaz. The Iranian Government committed to releasing Morad from prison on indefinite furlough but they failed to honour that commitment. His continuing horrendous ordeal sends a clear message to the international community that Iran does not honour its commitments. We continue to urge the Iranian authorities at every opportunity to release him immediately. He must be allowed to return to his family’s home in Tehran without further delay. Morad is a tri-national, and we are working closely with the United States to release him.

Let me conclude by saying that it is in no one’s interest to see a nuclear-armed Iran. The UK is firm in its commitment to the security and prosperity of our allies in the region, and to working with the international community to hold Iran to account for its destabilising activity. We urge, and will continue to urge, Iran to cease its nuclear escalation and to conclude the deal currently on the table to restore the JCPOA while that is still possible. If that does not happen, we will work with our international partners to consider all options.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark 2:47 pm, 30th June 2022

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her response, and to all my hon. and right hon. Friends and colleagues across the House for contributing to a thoughtful and informed debate this afternoon. I am particularly grateful to Steve McCabe for supporting the debate, and to my hon. Friend Bob Blackman for contributing and for his role on the Backbench Business Committee that made today possible.

We heard a range of views from across the Chamber today, but I think it was clear that no one spoke in favour of a return to the JCPOA as is. Numerous colleagues spoke in favour of a negotiated settlement with Iran, but all expressed concern at the terms of the JCPOA itself. I therefore ask the Minister to reflect on the contributions she has heard today, because I think there would be grave concern if she and the Government were to enter into an agreement that did not have, for example, extended sunset provisions or greater enforcement provisions or that permitted the de-proscribing of terrorist-supporting organisations such the IRGC. That does not seem to me, in the light of today’s debate, to be the will of this House. It would be unwise of the Government to sign an important international agreement for which there is little, if any, support in this House.

I ask the Minister to reflect on one further point. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East and many others eloquently said that it seems to be the will of this House, and of many outside, that the IRGC is proscribed. We have made great steps in recent years in proscribing both Hamas and Hezbollah following cross-party campaigns, and I think now is the time to take the next logical step and proscribe the IRGC. I ask her, on our behalf, to take that message to the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, who have joint responsibility, and to ask them to take all steps to proscribe that organisation as soon as possible.

On behalf of all hon. and right hon. Members here today, I ask the Minister to pass on our thanks to her officials in the Foreign Office for their hard work in the talks thus far, and to ask them to take action to reflect the views of this House as they continue those negotiations on the country’s behalf.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
expresses grave concern at the imminent prospect of a nuclear armed Iran;
calls on the Government in its ongoing negotiations in respect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) agreement to seek to extend the sunset clauses, enact a stricter monitoring regime, retain terrorist proscriptions, and expand its scope to include Iran’s other destabilising activities in the region.