Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

– in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 13 September 2023.

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Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:11, 13 September 2023

I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2023, which was laid before this House on 6 September, be approved.

Before getting into the detail of the order, I take this opportunity to apologise to the House and to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the fact that news of my decision, which we are here to debate, became public before the order was laid.

I am grateful to hon. Members for their consideration of the order, which will see the Wagner Group, a truly brutal organisation, proscribed. Having just met Ukrainian Interior Minister Klymenko, I am proud to reiterate the United Kingdom’s commitment to Ukraine, as it resists and defeats Putin’s war of aggression.

Some 78 terrorist organisations are currently proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. Proscription is not only a powerful tool for degrading terrorist organisations; it sends a strong message about the UK’s commitment to tackling terrorist activity globally.

Wagner Group are terrorists, plain and simple. I therefore propose amending schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000 by adding Wagner Group, also referred to as the Wagner Network, to the list of proscribed organisations. In referring to Wagner Group, the order encompasses all Wagner’s activities across the globe.

For an organisation to be proscribed, I as the Home Secretary must reasonably believe that it is currently involved in terrorism, as set out in section 3 of the 2000 Act. If the statutory test is met, I must then consider the proportionality of proscription and decide whether to exercise my discretion.

Proscription is a powerful tool with severe penalties. It criminalises being a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation and wearing articles of a proscribed organisation in a way that arouses suspicion. Penalties are a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. Proscription also supports other disruptive activity, such as immigration disruptions and terrorist financing offences. The resources of a proscribed organisation are terrorist property and therefore liable to be seized.

The order builds on sanctions that are already in place against Wagner Group. Terrorist financing incurs criminal rather than civil penalties, which allow the Government ultimately to forfeit terrorist property, rather than just freezing an individual’s assets. I am supported in my decision making by the cross-Government proscription review group, and a decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration, given its wide-ranging impact. It must be approved by both Houses.

A great deal of carnage and blame can be laid at the feet of Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, which emerged following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Putin’s first illegal invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Wagner have acted as a proxy military force on behalf of the Russian state, operating in a range of theatres including Ukraine, Syria, Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique and Mali. They have pursued Russia’s foreign policy objectives and those of other Governments who have contracted their services.

In the hours following Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, Wagner Group were reportedly tasked with assassinating President Zelensky. They failed in that task, thanks to the heroism and bravery of the Ukrainian security forces. Wagner Group describe themselves in heroic terms, even suggesting, revoltingly, that they are saviours of Africa. That private military companies remain illegal under Russian law has never particularly concerned Putin.

Putin can distort the truth to suit himself all he likes, but Wagner Group are terrorists. Wherever they go, instability, misery and violence follow. With the House’s consent, Wagner Group will therefore be proscribed. Having carefully considered all the evidence, including advice from the cross-Government proscription review group, I have decided that there is sufficient evidence to reasonably believe that Wagner Group are concerned in terrorism and that proscription is proportionate.

Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I can provide the House with a summary of Wagner Group’s activities, which supports the decision. Wagner Group commit and participate in terrorism. That is based on evidence of their use of serious violence against Ukrainian armed forces and civilians to advance Russia’s political cause.

Wagner Group played a central role in combat operations against Ukrainian armed forces to seize the city of Popasna in May 2022 and during the assault on Bakhmut, which was largely occupied by Russian forces this year. The horrific assault on Bakhmut resulted in the virtual destruction of a city that was once home to 70,000 people. Those are 70,000 innocent civilians whose homes happened to be in the way of Putin’s neo-imperial ambitions.

Wagner employed the same inhumane and senseless tactics that Russian forces had previously used in Chechnya, killing innocent civilians and destroying an entire city in the process. They barely showed any more concern for the lives of their own side. Defence intelligence has assessed that up to 20,000 convicts, recruited directly from Russian prisons on the promise of a pardon and early release, were killed within a few months of the attack on Bakhmut. Wagner’s relentless bombardment of Bakhmut was one of the bloodiest episodes in modern military history.

Hon. Members will also be aware of multiple reports that allege unbelievable brutality by Wagner Group commanders against their own troops who retreat, desert or otherwise refuse to carry out their leaders’ murderous orders. The most notorious of those events, the killing of a purported deserter, who was murdered by a sledgehammer blow to the head, has even been glorified by Wagner’s leaders and Russian ultra-nationalists. That macabre culture and brutality are indicative of an organisation that is more than just a private military company. There is a reason for that: it is a terrorist organisation.

Ukrainian prosecutors have accused Wagner Group fighters of war crimes near Kyiv. The tortured bodies of civilians were found with their hands tied behind their backs in the village of Motyzhyn. I visited Ukraine last year in my role as Attorney General and I saw at first hand those prosecutors’ unrelenting commitment to seeking justice. We stand with Ukraine in that mission.

Wagner Group have also been implicated in serious acts of violence in several countries in Africa. A UN report published in May this year implicated Wagner in the massacre of at least 500 people in the central Malian town of Moura in March 2022, including summary executions, as well as rape and torture. In June 2021, a panel of experts convened by the UN Security Council detailed atrocities in the Central African Republic, including excessive use of force, indiscriminate killings, the occupation of schools and looting on a large scale, including of humanitarian organisations.

Despite their mutiny in June of this year and the reported death of their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, last month, Wagner remain a violent and destructive organisation. Proscription sends a strong message of the UK’s commitment to tackle terrorist activity and builds on our existing cross-Government work to counter Wagner’s destabilising activities. Their leadership’s recent feud with senior Russian military figures is a predictable consequence of Putin’s disastrous decision to invade Ukraine, but it is fundamentally a distraction from the fact that Wagner continue to commit violent acts around the world. While Putin’s regime wavers over what to do with the monster that it created, Wagner’s destabilising activities only continue to serve the Kremlin’s political goals.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I am listening carefully to what the Home Secretary is saying about the timeline for all this. Although I certainly welcome this proscription, the frustration is that it did not happen sooner. Although she cannot go into the detail of the intelligence that she has heard, could she perhaps expand on why it has taken this long, because much of what she has said refers to 2021 and early 2022. Why did we not we do this sooner?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The decision has not been taken in isolation; it builds on a strong response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and Wagner’s wider destabilising activity, including extensive sanctions. Decisions on whether and when to proscribe a particular organisation are taken after extensive consideration and in the light of a full assessment of the available information. Significant events have taken place recently, including the mutiny in June, the alleged death of the core Wagner Group leadership in August, and it is right that we consider the impact of those key events when taking the decision.

The real fact remains that this group present a serious risk to security around the world, and their increasing activities in Ukraine affect European stability and our security, which is why the case for action is now stronger than ever. Wagner are vulnerable. A leadership vacuum and questions about their future provide a unique opportunity to truly disrupt their operations and the threat they pose. That is why this House must proscribe Wagner now.

This decision comes after public calls from President Zelensky for international allies to take action and list Wagner as a terrorist organisation. In doing so, we stand alongside our allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and France, whose Parliaments have all called for Wagner Group to be labelled as a terrorist organisation on the EU’s list of terrorist groups. We continue to work in close co-ordination with the US, which designated Wagner under its transnational criminal organisation sanctions programme earlier this year.

In formally proscribing, we will be leading the international effort by taking concrete legal action against Wagner. I urge our allies to follow suit. This decision demonstrates that the UK will maintain its unwavering support for Ukraine, in co-ordination with our allies. It shows that we stand with the people of Ukraine against Russia’s aggression.

To conclude, wherever Wagner operate, they have a catastrophic effect on communities, worsening conflicts and damaging the reputations of countries that host them. Wagner may be at their most vulnerable and Russia’s military leaders may be grappling to regain control of the organisation, but the brutal methods they have employed will undoubtedly remain a tool of the Russian state. Let there be no misunderstanding: in whatever form Wagner take, we and our allies will pursue them. We will expose them and we will disrupt them. Wagner are a terrorist organisation and we must not be afraid of saying so. We will hold Russia to account for its use of these malign groups—these international gangsters—and the destruction they bring around the world. We will continue to support Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression, and we will confront and challenge terrorism however and wherever it occurs.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

Before we proceed, I must now announce the result of today’s deferred Division on the draft Windsor Framework (Enforcement etc.) Regulations 2023. The Ayes were 434 and the Noes were 10, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 3:25, 13 September 2023

I thank the Home Secretary for her remarks. I wish to begin by paying tribute to the exceptional men and women who serve in our intelligence and security services, in Government and in our police, as they all work tirelessly to keep our country safe. Two days on from the anniversary of 9/11, I also wish to remember the lives lost and all those affected by the tragic events of 2001, and to reaffirm Labour’s commitment to stand against the evils of terrorism.

As the Home Secretary has laid out, the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2023 amends the list of proscribed organisations in schedule 2 to the Act by adding Wagner Group as a new entry. What the Government are proposing today will make it a criminal offence to belong to Wagner Group, to engage in activities, such as attending meetings, to promote support for the group, or to publicly display their logo, putting the group on a par with organisations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. It also enables Wagner assets to be categorised as terrorist property and seized. It is a motion that we on these Opposition Benches strongly support.

Proscribing Wagner Group is a necessary step to address the threat that they pose. It is an action for which we on the Labour Benches have been calling for some time—the shadow Home Secretary called for this back in February. The United States designated Wagner a transnational criminal organisation nine months ago. France designated Wagner as a terrorist entity back in May. Although I am very conscious of the complexities around this type of proscription—perhaps the June coup was a further complicating factor—will the Home Secretary reflect on whether lessons could be learned with regard to acting sooner? This goes back to the point made by Layla Moran a moment ago. I ask that question, mindful of the long-standing support for proscription from Members right across this House, including the former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The shadow Home Secretary has consistently raised the challenges involved in using counter-terror legislation to proscribe state-sponsored organisations such as Wagner. We have long called for the introduction of a bespoke proscribing mechanism designed specifically to address state-sponsored threats. The Government’s Contest update published in July stated:

“The most pressing national security priority is now the threat from Russia to European security.”

Yet the strategy does not set out a comprehensive response to the national security threats posed by states and state-sponsored actors. I would therefore be grateful if the Home Secretary outlined what robust action the Government are taking to tackle those threats.

There are many people and organisations in the world that we could call a force for good. Wagner are at the opposite end of that spectrum. They are a force for evil wherever they are. Their track record is one of violence, theft and murder, from Ukraine to Syria, and from Mali to Mozambique. They helped to spearhead the takeover of Crimea in 2014 and has carried out appalling war crimes since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. They have been implicated in massacres of civilians and increasing abuses by security forces in multiple other countries. In places such as the Central African Republic they have offered a business model essentially trading violence for natural resources, turbocharging the abusive extraction of minerals that has driven so much conflict and corruption in weak states around the world.

As of July, the Government had sanctioned fewer than a quarter of the 81 individuals and entities the Foreign Affairs Committee recently identified as being linked to Wagner. I ask the Home Secretary to give an assurance that the Government are looking closely at those individuals and working to ensure that, where possible, sanctions are applied. As the Committee also pointed out in its excellent report, Wagner are

“a sprawling, decentralised network of individuals and commercial entities…for which the ‘membership’ is not always clear.”

The presumed assassination of Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin may hasten the break-up of the organisation, but there is little doubt that their work could continue under different names, by the same or different individuals. Will the Home Secretary confirm that, working with her colleagues across Government, steps are being taken to ensure that the UK is ready to respond to such a scenario?

Of course, the threat posed by Wagner is multiplied exponentially because of their links to the Kremlin. It fits neatly within a pattern of crime, corruption and kleptocracy that poses a much wider danger. Russian information and election subversion operations, which Wagner supported and which have targeted the UK, among other countries, will not go away, not least because other countries are imitating them, but by proscribing the group we demonstrate an important commitment towards protecting our democratic values. I completely understand that the Home Secretary will be limited in what she can say, but given the activities of Wagner it would be helpful were she able to say something about the progress that the defending democracy taskforce is making.

We also need to consider ways in which the UK may itself be facilitating the profits of Wagner’s backers and those like them. For example, research by Transparency International UK suggests that since 2016, £1.5 billion-worth of UK property was bought by Russians accused of corruption or with links to the Kremlin. More than half of that is held through companies in Britain’s overseas territories and Crown dependencies. More than 2,000 companies registered in those areas were used in 48 Russian money laundering and corruption cases, involving more than £82 billion of illicit funds. What is the betting that some of those beneficiaries are linked to Wagner? What is the harm to our security being done even by those who are not?

I know that the Home Secretary will not consider this proscription as job done, and will see it as just an important further step towards disrupting and defeating Wagner’s murderous terrorist activities. While I am conscious that she will be limited in what she is able to say, I would be grateful if she could say something about what steps the Government are taking to strengthen financial transparency and accountability in the UK, in our dependencies and overseas.

The Labour party strongly supports the motion. We will work constructively to stand against the evils of terrorism, and I look forward to hearing from the Home Secretary on the questions that I have put to her.

Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Conservative, North Somerset 3:33, 13 September 2023

I completely support my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in proscribing Wagner Group. As she said, they are instrumental in Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine. They are almost certainly complicit in war crimes of the sort that we have seen described throughout this horrific conflict, and it is right that we support our allies in Ukraine, in particular President Zelensky.

My purpose in rising in this debate is to question the logic of proscribing Wagner Group today and the Government’s sense of priorities in that we are not doing so alongside, if not linked to, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. I do so by reference to the tests set out for the proscription of Wagner Group in the Government’s explanatory notes to this motion. The first test is

“the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities”.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has set out how Wagner meet that test, but the IRGC is answerable directly to the supreme leader in Iran, so it has a direct link with the Iranian state’s malignant activities, including its support of the war in Ukraine. The IRGC is directly involved in the brutal oppression of the Iranian people, the suppression of human rights, the disappearances, the torture and the executions—so why not proscribe it?

The second test set out by the Government for proscribing an organisation is

“the specific threat that it poses to the UK”.

I hope my right hon. and learned Friend may say a little bit more, as far as she is able, about that specific threat, but it is clear in the case of the IRGC that MI5 has acknowledged the real threat from Iran’s “aggressive intelligence services” towards the United Kingdom. The IRGC clearly passes that test.

The third test for an organisation is

“the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas”.

Given the scale of the activities that Wagner Group are involved in, they would clearly pass that test. However, the IRGC is an indispensable part of the chain of hostage taking that has a direct impact on the safety of UK nationals and particularly UK dual nationals abroad, including in Iran. Why are we not seeing that linkage here?

The fourth test is

“the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK”.

I am not quite clear about the extent of Wagner’s presence in the UK—I can understand its impact on the UK, but I do not quite grasp its presence in the UK. However, I am very clear about Iran’s presence here and the IRGC’s role in using its propaganda base to incite extremism in the UK.

The fifth test is

“the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism.”

My right hon. and learned Friend has quite rightly set out a number of countries that are our partners in the international community and should be getting our support in the fight against Wagner Group and their interests in their own countries. However, we know that the IRGC is the export bureau for terrorism in the region, to its neighbours and beyond. We have had so many examples, from Hezbollah onwards.

Then we come to the linkage. The IRGC in Iran has huge control over the means of production in that country. It is inconceivable that it was not intricately involved in the production of the drones that Iran sent to Russia for the oppression of the Ukrainian people. If war crimes have been carried out by Russia, the means of carrying out those crimes has at least part of its origin in Tehran with the IRGC. It is essential that we tackle that as quickly as we can.

No one will disagree that Wagner is an evil, dangerous and malign grouping, but I would argue that they are no worse than the IRGC, which is not being proscribed by the Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in seeking the leadership of the Conservative party, was very supportive of the concept of proscribing the IRGC, so why this inactivity? I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have to have discussions and there will be a strong input from the Foreign Office in this. She has been a tough and robust Home Secretary, something that many of us greatly appreciate, but we are well behind the curve compared with the United States when it comes to the IRGC, and our failure to tackle what is a malign influence in the world today is damaging Britain’s reputation in the world beyond.

I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consult urgently with the rest of Government to see whether we should not be coming back to this Chamber as quickly as possible and adding the IRGC to the groups that this country will rightly proscribe because of their impact on this country, our citizens, the safety of countries beyond, our allies and international law itself.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:39, 13 September 2023

I am glad to follow Dr Fox, and I agree entirely with what he said. Many people in this House have for some time been calling for the proscription of the IRGC. I have constituents who are also concerned about the reach of the IRGC and are scared for their own safety, even in this country. It would be useful if the Home Secretary addressed the delay in the proscription in her summing up.

Wagner Group are an appalling organisation. The strength of the atrocities that that murderous organisation have been carrying out has been well documented and well known for years at the highest levels of the British Government. The explanatory memorandum to the order sets out clearly the group’s activities, as a proxy military force, on behalf of the Russian state. It states:

“Founded in 2014, Wagner Group has operated in a range of theatres, including Ukraine, Syria, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Mozambique, and Mali…in pursuit of Russia’s foreign policy objectives and the objectives of host Governments who have contracted Wagner’s services.”

So why has it taken until 2023, a hot war on European soil and a co-ordinated plane crash killing the group’s leader for this order to come before the House? That is quite astonishing. A catalogue of chaos and destruction has come before today, and as much as we support the measure, it feels to me and many others that the Government have taken far too long to raise the designation.

We in the SNP are disgusted that in October 2021, before Putin’s invasion, the Treasury—then under the control of the now Prime Minister—allowed Yevgeny Prigozhin to circumvent sanctions and launch a targeted attack on a British journalist. We very much want to see action against Wagner Group and all those associated with them—that is a significant point.

In the press release accompanying this announcement, the Minister for Security, Tom Tugendhat, said:

“Proscribing Wagner sends a clear message that the UK will not tolerate Russia’s proxies and their barbaric actions in Ukraine, and condemns Wagner’s campaign of corruption and bloodshed on the African continent, which has been repeatedly linked to human rights violations.”

That is all fine and well, but why was this not done sooner? I would like answers from the Home Secretary on that. Acting sooner may have stemmed some of that bloodshed and some of what has happened, and may have sent a clearer message more widely at a much earlier stage. If the organisation was indeed founded in 2014, that means that we have now been waiting nine years for this measure, and a lot of destruction has passed since.

Designating Wagner Group for proscription is a response to repeated requests from Ukraine’s President Zelensky, who has called for the group to be treated as a terrorist organisation. Can the Home Secretary tell us when he first made that request of the Government, and what response has been given to him? Clearly, we support President Zelensky and want him to succeed in his endeavours, but it would be useful to know the timeline and when the Government responded to that request.

On the wider situation, organisations that work for Wagner Group depend on the flow of funds that often wash up through bank accounts in the United Kingdom. We know about the UK’s reputation as a hub for laundering dirty money. Prior to this debate, the House dealt with the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which could do more still to ensure that we know who owns and benefits from various types of financial structures. Is the Home Secretary satisfied that that legislation will go far enough to prevent the sons, daughters, relatives and associates of Wagner Group members from moving money through accounts here in the UK? We should do everything we can, in light of Prigozhin’s actions to evade UK sanctions, to shut down Wagner Group wherever they might sprout up.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has branded the UK Government’s efforts to deter Wagner Group “underwhelming in the extreme” and recommends that the Conservative party revive at the earliest opportunity the 2019 manifesto commitment to spending 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income on official development assistance. Russia, and China to an extent, are exploiting and seeking to put their influence into the gap left by UK development assistance. As we pull back from that influence that we have had in the world, we do not want countries to be turning to states such as Russia, and to groups such as Wagner that work on their behalf. Will the Home Secretary comment on what more can be done to ensure that we counter such nefarious influence? Once states go down that road, it can be very difficult to come back, and we know from countries in Africa that the result of that will also end up on the Home Secretary’s desk in the form of people seeking asylum in this country, fleeing from wars that we could have done more to prevent had we clamped down and had we provided aid at a different stage. All of this is interconnected, and all of it comes through her Department.

The Foreign Affairs Committee has also commented that it has received no evidence of any serious effort by the UK Government to track Wagner Network’s activities in countries other than Ukraine. That is perhaps not directly within the Home Secretary’s remit, but could she comment a wee bit further on the tracking of the Wagner Group’s activities—on how closely the UK state is monitoring those activities to ensure we understand where they are now and, crucially, where they might be going next? They appear to have a very nimble organisation that can change and evolve, so we need to be mindful that although Prigozhin is gone, there are plenty of people to replace him within that organisation. What they are doing is clearly lucrative, so we need to have that intelligence and analysis of their network to make sure we are keeping a close eye on what happens next, and what more the UK state can do to intervene in it.

Can the Home Secretary talk a bit more about the further sanctions on civilian enablers and frontmen, which I touched on a little when we were debating the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill? There are people in this country, I am certain, who are facilitating a lot of the movement of finance. We have the opportunity to go further than is proposed in the order to look at those frontmen and those who give the organisation its corporate face. Will the UK Government have a regular mechanism for co-ordinating with allies about sanctions—prioritising travel bans, for example—to make sure that those actors involved in Wagner do not get to move around? Is the Magnitsky sanctions list also co-ordinated with today’s action, and will more sanctions on that list follow? I know that it is not the done thing to say who is going to be sanctioned, but it would be good to get some reassurance that that list is continually under review.

Finally, it would also be useful to know what further mechanisms there are for oversight in this House. We need to be keeping a closer eye on this issue: it should not have taken nine years to get to where we are today. What more will be done to make sure that this is an effective mechanism—that we are keeping a very close eye on this organisation and its operatives, and doing everything we can as a good ally to Ukraine to make sure that all our actions are co-ordinated, working with other allies to make sure everything that can possibly be done to shut down this evil terrorist organisation is done, and done quickly?

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:47, 13 September 2023

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Naturally, I and the Liberal Democrats welcome the Government’s decision to proscribe Wagner mercenary group as a terrorist organisation, but I hope the Home Secretary hears some of the frustration about how long it has taken. When President Zelensky first addressed the House of Commons on 9 March 2022, just 13 days after Russia’s invasion—I am sure many Members were there; it was profoundly moving—his ask of us was that we recognise Russia as a terrorist state. The next day, our party agreed with him publicly, and furthermore said that we must proscribe Wagner Group. It has been 551 days since the illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the Government only decided last week to finally get their act together. I am sorry, but that is far, far too late.

The proscription comes after the organisation’s infamous leader had his plane mysteriously blown out of the sky, and Wagner Group’s power is now waning. This is a classic case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Yes, Wagner Group are weaker now, but what could we have prevented—what could we have stopped them from doing—had we started this process earlier? This barbarous group have always been terrorists: they were terrorists a year ago, and they were terrorists nine years ago. We did not need more information; we just needed to get on with it.

As has been described, Wagner Group have been wreaking havoc and destruction not just in Ukraine, but all over—in Syria, Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Libya. The Government have repeatedly informed the House of what steps they are taking to provide support to Ukrainians fighting Russian forces and Wagner Group, but I ask the Government to update us on what support we are providing our partners in Africa facing these same bloodthirsty mercenaries. We have taken too long in weakening them, and we have allowed them to take root. We understand that Russia is now falling in behind and trying to recoup some of these contracts, but I am afraid to say that it should not have got to this point.

On sanctions, which were mentioned by the Home Secretary, my colleagues in the House of Lords have recently raised the issue of joint ventures that operate between the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Wagner Group and countries such as Sudan. I join my colleagues in the Lords in hoping that the Government might update money laundering regulations with haste to ensure that these loopholes are closed, because we know these loopholes exist.

I would like to remind the House of a debate we had in January, when we debated the openDemocracy report that exposed how the Government assisted—assisted—Yevgeny Prigozhin in evading sanctions to launch a legal attack on a British journalist. Special licences issued in 2021 by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now the Prime Minister, enabled this move, despite sanctions that had been imposed in 2020 to prevent such dealings with Prigozhin. As I said at the time, that one of the most notorious criminals in the world—and now a UK proscribed terrorist, albeit dead—might have evaded sanctions to sue a British journalist should not have happened, and we still need answers about what happened.

The other thing that remains an unanswered question—again, this is linked—is the issue of golden visas, which lies squarely in the Department of the Home Secretary. Yes, the Government ceased the use of tier 1 investment visas, but time and again they have refused to publish the full review. After five years, they released a short statement about the review, but never the review itself. I am sorry to say that this just creates suspicion. This House needs to know to what extent the Government let Kremlin-linked oligarchs treat this country as their playground, and if it is too sensitive for us to see here, and I accept it might well be, release it to the Intelligence and Security Committee, for example. Let it have the transparency it needs, because if the Government have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear.

Finally, I am glad that the Government have finally seen the error of their ways regarding the timeline to proscribe Wagner, but they now must learn this lesson and not wait. In particular, they must not make the same mistake with Iran, and I echo the points made by Members earlier. The Home Secretary will know that 16 September marks the one-year anniversary of the killing of Mahsa Amini in Iran, and time and again across this House we have repeatedly called for the proscription of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. The Home Secretary has warmed up her proscription muscles, and I would urge her to use them again, perhaps even this week to mark that tragic anniversary.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:53, 13 September 2023

I am grateful to all who have contributed to this debate. Many important issues have been raised, and I am encouraged by the supportive atmosphere in which the discussion has taken place. We all agree that Wagner Group are terrorists plain and simple, and I am confident that this House recognises, as the British people recognise, that we have a moral responsibility to act. We must and we will confront terrorism wherever and however it occurs, and that is why we are taking this action.

Hon. Members have all made very powerful points, and let me attempt to take them in some kind of logical order. The shadow Minister, Dan Jarvis, raised the issue of comparisons with other international allies. I gently say that we have been working intensively to build international consensus, but also to work closely in a cohesive way with our allies.

The US designation to which the hon. Gentleman refers is equivalent to the sanctions that the UK imposed in March last year. It was not equivalent to our proscription power that we are taking right now. The French Parliament supported a non-binding resolution to call Wagner terrorists, but it has not formally proscribed. That is why I emphasised that we are taking a leadership role in formally proscribing Wagner as a terrorist organisation. I will continue to work with international partners to create a broader consensus.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I agree with everything that the Home Secretary has said. We are taking a lead, and that is brilliant. Has she had specific conversations on this matter with her counterparts and also with the EU? The EU can also proscribe and designate Wagner as a terrorist organisation, which itself has financial implications. Will she bring that up with the European Union, too?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The threat posed by terrorist organisations, including Wagner Group, has been on the agenda in many of my dialogues with international partners because of its wholesale destructive nature and the enormity of the threat that it poses.

The shadow Minister also asked about our broader strategy on Russia and our approach to state threats. What I turn to first is our integrated review, which sets out in the most pressing terms that the most urgent national security and foreign policy priority in the short to medium term is to address the threat posed by Russia to European security. We will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend the rules-based international order, and we stand united in condemning Russia’s reprehensible actions, which are an egregious violation of international law and the UN charter.

When the integrated review was published, it made clear that we are dealing head-on with the threat posed by Russia. We take it extremely seriously, and we have responded to it. We have called out Russian aggression wherever it occurs. The National Security Act 2023—a landmark piece of legislation that overhauls our outdated espionage rules—already creates a wide range of new offences, tools and powers to counter state threats and their activities. In many respects, those cover similar grounds to a proscription-like power of the kind that the shadow Minister was referring to, but the Act will give us and, importantly, equip our agencies with wide-ranging tools to specify a foreign power, or part of a foreign power, or an entity controlled by a foreign power, under the enhanced tier of the foreign influence registration scheme, for example. It will mean that persons in those arrangements will have to register their activities or risk prosecution. That is a groundbreaking tool that we will be equipped with thanks to the passage of that landmark legislation.

The defending democracy taskforce, to which the shadow Minister referred, is leading cross-government work. It is chaired and led by the Minister for Security, my right hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, but that cross-government work is taking place to drive forward the taskforce’s priorities with Parliament, our security and intelligence community, the devolved Administrations, local authorities, the private sector and civil society. It has been incredibly extensive in its coverage so far, and we look forward to its having a tangible impact on those agencies to which I referred.

Several Members asked about sanctions, and in particular the sanctions in place against Wagner Group. In 2020, the UK designated Prigozhin through the Libya sanctions regime. That was for his and Wagner Group’s involvement in activities that threatened the peace, stability and security of Libya, including defying the UN arms embargoes. In March 2022, the UK also designated the Wagner Group for their role in actions that destabilised Ukraine. Asset freezes were imposed on funds identified as belonging to the Wagner Group in the UK, as well as travel bans on any of their members.

In July this year, the Foreign Secretary announced 13 new UK sanctions targeting a range of individuals and businesses linked to the actions of the Wagner Group in Africa. That included individuals from the Wagner Group associated with executions and torture in Mali and the Central African Republic, and threats to peace and security in Sudan. Those sanctions have had an impact: they constrained the ability to utilise assets and limited the ability to travel. As I said, the framework has constrained the freedoms and abilities of these organisations and individuals. Of course, the broad-ranging set of sanctions has been one of the largest sets of sanctions imposed on a modern economy.

Several hon. Members asked what more the Government are doing to monitor the risk that the Wagner Group and other Russian private military companies or mercenaries fragment and reform in different moulds. Our approach to tackling Wagner and other Russian PMCs has three core strands: military, sanctions and state building. The extensive military support we have given to Ukraine seeks to counter the threat that Wagner pose there, and our sanctions constrain their ability to utilise assets and to travel.

Our diplomatic engagement with partners around the world focuses on supporting fragile states to build their own capacity and discourage Wagner from taking root. Several hon. Members referenced how Wagner trade in violence and benefit through Governments, para-governments or paramilitary groups plundering resources, assets and other forms of wealth in those nations. If those states are robust and resilient in the first place, groups such as Wagner will not be able to take root. That work relating to private military companies is extensive, and our cross-Government Russia unit brings our full range of capabilities to bear against the malign influences of these contractors, in concert with our allies.

Several hon. Members referenced Africa. For many years, Wagner have had a destabilising effect on the African continent. They have been reportedly responsible for multiple breaches of international humanitarian law and abuses of human rights, including numerous reports of indiscriminate killings of unarmed civilians, summary executions and rape. We have again sought to take a leading role in reducing opportunities for Wagner to operate in Africa and holding them to account for the atrocities they commit.

Lastly, several hon. Members—notably my right hon. Friend Dr Fox—referenced the IRGC. It is clear that Iran continues to pose a persistent threat to UK-based individuals, which is unacceptable. There has obviously been significant parliamentary, media and public interest in a potential proscription decision on the IRGC. Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords have discussed IRGC proscription, with the House of Commons unanimously passing a motion in January to urge the Government to proscribe it. It is clear that the Iranian regime continues to occupy a serious and worrying role in our global order. We continue to condemn Iran’s role as one of the top military backers of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Since August last year, Tehran has transferred hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles to Moscow, in violation of UN Security Council resolution 2231. We work tirelessly with our international partners to hold Iran to account for the sale of drones to Russia, and we have imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities involved in the illegal transfers to Russia. They add to the already extensive sanctions on Iran’s drone programmes. We have also publicly raised this matter twice at the UN Security Council, alongside France, Germany and the US, and we support Ukraine’s request for a UN investigation.

It is clear that Iran continues to pose a persistent threat to UK-based individuals, which is unacceptable. The Department keeps the list of proscribed organisations under review. I know I will frustrate colleagues to say that our policy is not to comment on the specifics of individual proscription cases, and that I am unable to provide further details on this issue. I have heard the comments of Members here and the sentiment of the House. Ministers previously confirmed to this House that the decision was under active consideration but that we would not provide a running commentary. I know that will disappoint Members, but we are cognisant and open-eyed about the threat that the IRGC poses to the UK.

I am very grateful for this House’s support for the decision to proscribe the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation. The brutality and the enormity of destruction and devastation wreaked by this group is unspeakable. It is right that we act now. I commend this order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2023, which was laid before this House on 6 September, be approved.

Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek your advice. Recently, Cumberland Council, which incidentally happens to be Labour-led, wrote to me about the impact of the EU’s nutrient neutrality rules on house building in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend John Stevenson. As well as a number of new businesses and business expansions being held up, I am told that more than 2,500 new homes that have gone through the planning process and are awaiting granted permission have been blocked, and a further 1,450 homes as part of St Cuthbert’s garden village have been blocked. At least one national house builder has effectively withdrawn from the region. The forecasted turnover reduction runs into millions of pounds, with the inevitable impact on local jobs and the supply chain.

The council also says that the impact of the small amount of mitigation that may be found for some developments will be a reduction in section 106 agreements for affordable housing. Hundreds of jobs in my constituency are at risk. The Government found a solution and we have now found out that the Opposition plan to block it, after previously signalling agreement. I wonder if a Minister might signal their intention to come to the House to set out the impact that the flip-flopping of His Majesty’s Opposition might have on constituencies such as Workington.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has placed his view on the record, and it has been heard by Ministers. He will understand it is not a matter for the Chair, but I am quite sure that Members on both Front Benches will have heard what he has had to say and will treat the matter with the respect that it deserves.