Protecting Against the Effects of the Extraterritorial Application of Third Country Legislation (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:02 pm on 26th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 9:02 pm, 26th March 2019

I, too, am very grateful to the Minister for her very full introduction to this SI. It took us into areas new to me, such as the intersection between foreign policy and trade policy. That is an interesting issue and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was right to focus his remarks on how these things will work in practice. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

When the Minister introduced the SI, she pointed out that much of the regulation that has been transposed was originally introduced in 1996 in response to the extraterritorial reach of certain sanctions imposed by the US in relation to Cuba in the 1990s. Obviously, it has been updated since then, particularly with reference to Iran. It set a train of thought in my mind about how exactly our current foreign policy meshes with these regulations. With particular reference to Iran, the commentary I have been reading seems to suggest that the package of measures that is being transferred across would encourage the European Investment Bank and banks in the UK—possibly even the Bank of England—to finance activities in Iran and to strengthen ongoing sectoral co-operation and assistance to Iran. That would include financial assistance through development corporation or partnership instruments, and encouraging the UK to explore the possibility of one-off bank transfers to Iran’s central bank, which would allow Iranian authorities to receive oil-related revenues.

I suppose this is all right—I do not really understand very much of this; it is way above my head—but when the Minister responds perhaps she could explain exactly how that meshes with our current policy towards Iran, which I understand is not as sympathetic or supportive as might be suggested by the rather large cash transfer opportunities which were being discussed.

This statutory instrument follows on from activities that have been going on in Europe for a number of years in relation not just to Cuba but to the other countries that were mentioned. It requires companies to notify the Commission within 30 days whenever renewed US extraterritorial sanctions directly or indirectly affect the economic or financial interests of the company in question. Various other things apply. EU companies can recover damages in EU courts from persons causing damage as a result of the sanctions, and it nullifies the effect of any court judgments or decisions of administrative bodies that are based on the reinstated US sanctions. My question here is: has anything happened in that regard? Do we have details on the number of companies that have notified the Commission within 30 days, as required? How much money has been recovered, and how many times have the courts been subject to recovery requests? I am sure that it will not affect the way in which we respond to the SI, but it would be interesting to have on the record whether this has been an active process or one that is more observed in the absence of activity than in the reality.

My attention was drawn to a quote from what is in some senses a rather unusual source, since I do not often quote this person. The UK Foreign Secretary at the time that this instrument was brought in, Boris Johnson, said that he thought it was rather difficult to protect European businesses due to the extraterritorial effect of US sanctions and the difficulties companies have when they touch the live wire of the American financial network—they find themselves sanctioned almost immediately. So my third request for more information is to ask whether the former Foreign Secretary is right that this has been rather difficult for companies to access and use.

I suppose I am leading to this question: what rationale do the Government give for continuing this transfer? It would clearly be inappropriate to have a situation in which an EU regulation had legal effect in the UK when we had not properly transferred it. If the ends do not justify the means, I am rather surprised that the Government are taking this step forward, so could the Minister reassure me when she comes to respond that this is a necessary instrument, that it fits with our current foreign policy operations and thoughts and that there is no concern in that respect?