Middle East: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 19 January 2022.

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Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative 3:06, 19 January 2022

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the destabilising activities in the Middle East of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and refer the House to my registered interest as the honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the Government regularly assess the impact of the IRGC’s destabilising activity throughout the region, including its political, financial and military support to several militant and proscribed groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, militias in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. Such activity compromises the region’s security and ability to prosper and it escalates high tensions. It is for this reason that we have over 200 UK sanctions listings in place against Iran, including the IRGC in its entirety, and support the enforcement of UN prohibitions on the proliferation of weapons to non-state actors.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

I thank my noble friend for the Answer, but has he had time to read Roger Boyes’ article in today’s Times? We have failed to hold the IRGC to account for its regional destabilisation activities, such as the downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in January 2020 or the killing of British citizen Adrian Underwood on “MV Mercer Street” in July 2021. Roger Boyes concluded that

“Iran is led by a toxic alliance of aggrieved religious leaders and a corrupt revolutionary guard with a brief to sow discord”.

Her Majesty’s Government rightly proscribed Hezbollah. Hezbollah was a creation of the IRGC, so can I ask my noble friend to press his colleagues at the Home Office to fully proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank my noble friend for his question. I have read Roger Boyes’ article and agree with his sentiments. We have been clear about our concerns about the IRGC’s continued destabilising activity throughout the region. It is for this reason that the IRGC is sanctioned in its entirety by the UK, as I mentioned. The list of proscribed organisations is kept under constant review, but we do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is or is not under consideration for proscription.

Photo of Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Non-affiliated

My Lords, I apologise for my early intervention. The revolutionary guards appear to have more power than the Iranian Government. Does the noble Lord agree that the continued unlawful detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is largely due to their malevolent influence? Did the British Government support the pre-emptive assassination of military commander Qasem Soleimani by the American Government in 2020?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I do not know whether the continued detention of Nazanin is related to the IRGC and I am afraid that I cannot comment on the British Government’s opinions on that particular incident.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, when we debated the proscription of Hamas, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, agreed to meet me and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. Her office has not been in touch, so could the Minister chase that for us, please? Hamas is one of the organisations with a link to that malignant group, the IRGC. Since America proscribed the corps in April 2019, the UK presumably has been in constant contact. The Government gave a lot of detail on the proscription of Hamas, so I am not sure why the Government are not prepared to say what differences we have from the United States, given the fact that the US has proscribed it.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I will certainly take that back and ask the department to get in touch with the noble Lord. I am obviously not qualified to comment on the opinions or actions of the United States. I can only reiterate what I said about the proscription of the IRGC.

Photo of Lord Singh of Wimbledon Lord Singh of Wimbledon Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that religious fanaticism, on which groups such as the revolutionary guard, ISIS, and some here in the UK thrive, is best countered by a far more robust questioning of dated negative culture, which attaches itself virus-like to religion? If religion is used in this way, it should be countered by vigorous debate. It is certainly not a private matter. Does the Minister agree that that discussion and debate should be given priority?

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, one month ago the Iranians exercised a practice dummy rum attacking the Dimona nuclear facility in Israel using 16 ballistic missiles and lots of drones. A number of agencies are now assessing that Iran will have a nuclear weapon capability within months. Where have we got to in trying to restart the JCPOA discussions to try to stop what is rapidly rushing towards a situation where there will be a war in the Middle East as well as in Ukraine?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord is right to raise the issue of ballistic missiles. It might be worth my pointing out that UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which was unanimously adopted in the Security Council and underpins the JCPOA, calls on Iran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear weapon, including launches using such ballistic missile technology. Those ballistic missile restrictions remain in place until 2023. The noble Lord will be aware that negotiations under the JCPOA have restarted. They were suspended in the middle of last year while there was a change in the Iranian Government. We still believe that the JCPOA offers the best way forward.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

How is it possible that the JCPOA has achieved anything, when, since signing up to it in 2015, Iran has carried out several ballistic missile tests, built new fortified missile bunkers, lied about the development of nuclear weapons to target our ally Israel and waged a shadow war against shipping in the Gulf, in addition, as we have heard, to kidnapping and killing British citizens? Do we not need a much tougher and robust approach when dealing with Iran, with a much tougher regime of sanctions, including against the new president?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, the JCPOA is not perfect, but it still represents the best and currently only framework for monitoring and constraining Iran’s nuclear programme. Our objective is to realise the benefits of the deal. A restored deal could pave the way for further discussions on regional and security concerns, including in support of a non-proliferation regime.

Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I was pleased to hear the Minister say that he had read Roger Boyes’ article in today’s Times. Iran has been training drone pilots at Kashan. This week they attacked Abu Dhabi airport. Will the Minister inform your Lordships’ House of the involvement of the revolutionary guard in the training and belligerent activities of these drones?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The UK strongly condemns the Houthi-based claimed attacks on the UAE. We are in contact with our Emirati partners and have offered the UK’s solidarity and support. The Foreign Secretary tweeted about this on 17 January. She said:

“I condemn in the strongest terms the Houthi claim to terrorist attacks on the UAE”.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, can I push the Minister a little more in response to my noble friend’s question on the JCPOA? We have a lot of evidence about the Iranian Government, the IRGC and the detention of dual nationals—all evidence of their refusal to comply with international law. Can the noble Lord tell us whether there have been more detailed discussions with our allies about how we broaden the scope of the JCPOA to include the issue of ballistic missiles?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

As I mentioned in answer to an earlier question, the negotiations in Vienna were suspended in June—the Iranians halted talks on 20 June—but they restarted in Iran on 29 November. We are in constant contact with our allies and partners on this, including the E3 and of course the US.

Photo of Lord Shinkwin Lord Shinkwin Conservative

My Lords, given that, as we have already heard, British citizens have died as a result of numerous actions of terrorism by the IRGC, can my noble friend indicate what sort of British body count we are looking at before the IRGC is proscribed as a terrorist group?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I cannot do that. However, I can condemn the unlawful and callous attacks to which I think the noble Lord may be referring and to which others have also referred, which were committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman, killing a British and a Romanian national. Obviously, our thoughts are with the friends and family of those killed in that incident. For what it is worth, we believe that that attack was deliberate, targeted and a clear violation of international law. The UK used its presidency of the G7 to co-ordinate a very strongly worded statement against Iran, which I think was the first of its kind.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, among those who were killed on flight 752, when 150 people were left dead, were UK nationals. Will the noble Lord return to the question asked to him by his noble friend Lord Polak and tell us what progress is being made on the claims for restitution that have been made by the families of the UK citizens and citizens from many other countries?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The UK is committed to securing justice for the victims on the flight to which the noble Lord refers. The UK is working closely with partners in the International Coordination and Response Group to achieve this. My right honourable friend James Cleverly is a member of and co-ordinates UK interests in that group.