Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action: Iran

– in Westminster Hall at 11:29 am on 19 October 2021.

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[Caroline Nokes in the Chair]

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee 2:30, 19 October 2021

Before we begin, I encourage hon. Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering or leaving the room.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

May I start by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes? I refer colleagues to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am grateful for having secured the time for this important debate, which is timely given Iran’s escalating nuclear violations and the continuing uncertainty around negotiations on the JCPOA nuclear deal. This is one of the most serious and most pressing foreign policy challenges of our time.

Before I get into those arguments I would like to take a moment to recognise the contribution to this Chamber made by our dear friend Sir David Amess. As we heard yesterday, Sir David never missed an opportunity to use whatever debating opportunities were available to press Ministers on the causes and issues that were close to his heart. He certainly used Westminster Hall to its fullest. As a member of the Panel of Speakers, he chaired many of the debates that took place here. I know that colleagues will miss seeing him in the chair, masterfully overseeing proceedings in a way that one can only do with 40 years of service under their belt.

There is every chance that Sir David would have sought to speak today. Last December, I had the pleasure of following him in a debate on this very subject. As ever, he spoke with great authority about Iran, his hopes for real, positive change in that country, and its need for true democratic revival. In his own words,

“I am now, unfortunately, in my fourth decade of saying negative things about the Iranian regime;
it would be good to still be here in Parliament when I can say something positive about it.”—[Official Report, 9 December 2020; Vol. 685, c. 431WH.]

How sad and how tragic that he is not here to contribute today, and that he will not be able to say something positive about the country that he knew very well and loved. As a man of faith and strong conviction, a man who loved history, he had a deep interest in and affection for the wider middle east. He demonstrated that being a friend of Israel is no barrier to being a friend of Arab nations, too. In many ways, he was an embodiment of the Abraham accords long before they were signed.

Just a few weeks ago, Sir David tried to bend my arm into joining his delegation to Qatar. He knew of my interest in and desire to visit that country, and we both spoke in a debate on UK-Qatar relations a year ago. Unfortunately, constituency activities meant that I could not go, but I knew that travelling with Sir David would have been a very enjoyable experience. He was on the delegation on my first visit to Israel with the Conservative Friends of Israel, and I can say from first-hand knowledge just what a wonderful, funny, kind and generous travelling companion he could be.

Sir David was clear-sighted about the true nature of the Iranian regime and its malign influence throughout the middle east. In his speech last year, he spoke about Iranian terror activities in the region and here in Europe, and he warned of Iran’s ballistic missile programme and uranium enrichment activity. When it came to Iran, Sir David was simply someone who got it. Yes, he was hopeful, and almost romantically he longed for positive change for the Iranian people, but make no mistake: he was hard-head and clear-sighted about the immediate threats and challenges posed by Iran, and the need for strong countermeasures. That is very much my theme for this afternoon as we return to the subject of Iran’s compliance with JCPOA.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on sponsoring this important debate. Does he agree with me that if our colleague’s concerns were correct then—they certainly were—they would be even greater now, since a difficult Government in Tehran have been replaced by a Government who are simply beyond the pale in their principlist agenda, and in their view, as articulated by President Raisi, that sanctions are an opportunity for Iran, rather than something to be feared? Does my right hon. Friend fear, as I do, that dealing with a man who deservedly has the title of the “Butcher of Tehran” is going to be murderously difficult, notwithstanding the fact that the Biden Administration are far more positive than their predecessors when it comes to advancing the JCPOA?

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He is entirely correct. The truth is that the situation has moved on at some pace in the 10 months since we last debated this subject, which is why it is so timely to bring it back to the House this afternoon. It is an uncomfortable truth that Iran can now be described as a threshold nuclear weapons state. The regime is enriching uranium to greater purities than ever before; it is in retention of ballistic missiles that can deliver nuclear and conventional payloads; and it continues to impede the International Atomic Energy Agency’s access to sites, personnel, and even monitoring equipment and data. The director general of the IAEA has spoken about this very subject today. That has far-reaching and serious consequences for UK foreign policy, for our national interests and for international peace and security. Given Iran’s well-documented systematic non-compliance with JCPOA, it is unsurprising that there is widespread apprehension about the future of the nuclear deal. Make no mistake, the reason that talks have stalled is that Tehran prefers to build more leverage through its nuclear violations.

While much of the focus of commentators on the JCPOA talks in Vienna has been on the intentions of the Biden Administration and the actions of Tehran, questions need to be asked now about whether the JCPOA is even capable of addressing the realities of Iran’s nuclear programme in 2021. Accordingly, I believe it is essential that the UK works with international partners to utilise the remaining diplomatic levers available to curtail Tehran’s nuclear belligerence before the situation deteriorates even further.

Aside from Iran’s continuing nuclear violations over the past year, it is worth pointing out that Iran has also engaged in a shadow bombing campaign against oil tankers navigating international waters, with one such attack involving the killing of a British national. Iran and its network of Shi’ite ally militia groups have routinely attacked military personnel in Iraq with dozens of drone and missile strikes, again killing a UK serviceperson. Iran has plotted the kidnap of foreign nationals and continues to hold British citizens and dual nationals hostage. An Iranian diplomat was sentenced in February for his involvement in a bomb plot against an Iranian opposition rally in Paris, which was attended by a number of our colleagues from this place, including Sir David Amess. Mercifully, that attack was foiled just in time.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the original purpose of the nuclear agreement that the west made with Iran was that it would reduce Iranian terrorism around the world and ensure that Iran moved towards becoming a democratic state? We were told at the time that those would be the beneficial effects of the agreement, but none of those things has happened. In fact, terrorism, particularly around the middle east, has got worse, funded and sponsored by Iran.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend is correct. The JCPOA has done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from conducting those wider activities in the middle east, undermining democratic states and the social and economic order of countries in the region, and sponsoring proxies. Last week, the scenes of street battles that we saw in Beirut raised the distressing possibility of a much-feared civil war in Lebanon. That should serve as a reminder of revolutionary Iran’s legacy. Wherever Iran exerts influence, it destroys the viability of the fragile but sovereign nation states that it preys on by fanning the flames of ethnic, sectarian and political division within each society for its own gain.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. When we talk about destabilising nations, we always think of China and Russia, but Iran, especially in the middle east, plays a fundamental part in failing the peace process, whether through Hezbollah or Hamas. We should proscribe every single group linked with the revolutionary guard, including the political wing of Hamas.

Stephen Crabb::

Unsurprisingly, I agree with my hon. Friend’s remarks. Wherever Iran seeks to operate and influence, it creates roadblocks to peace and long-term prosperity for peoples throughout the middle east.

Against that backdrop, Tehran has also spent the last year systematically and aggressively advancing its nuclear activities. Iran’s nuclear programme is now deep into uncharted territory, and its new hard-line Government have thus far shown no inclination or intention to stop. That represents a comprehensive breach not only of the JCPOA but of safeguards obligations, as well as the non-proliferation treaty. Iran is openly enriching uranium to 60% purity for the first time ever, meaning that it is just a short jump to the level required for a nuclear weapon and a world away from the 3.67% permitted under the JCPOA.

Iran has installed advanced centrifuges, capable of enriching uranium at greater purity levels and in greater quantities, including at its controversial underground nuclear facilities. Iran now has stockpiles of enriched uranium far in excess of the limited amount permitted by JCPOA. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran has produced hundreds of grams of uranium metal, which is a significant component of nuclear weapons and has no credible civilian application. Iran has also repeatedly stonewalled the efforts of the IAEA to monitor its nuclear activities and investigate worrying discoveries of nuclear materials at previously undeclared sites. Many of those advancements are irreversible. The international community may yet—I believe it is unlikely—reach agreement with Iran to remove some stockpiles of enriched uranium out of the country. However, the technical knowledge, the know-how and the advancements cannot be rolled back and those are the very building blocks of a weaponised nuclear programme.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

My right hon. Friend is being very generous and is right to say that technical understanding and knowledge cannot be unpicked. That, in a sense, is more important than the quantum of enriched uranium. Does he agree with me that Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid are right to be deeply concerned about what is going on? I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees with me that the state of Israel has to be protected against an existential threat from what is happening in Iran.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the position of Israel and the fears and concerns within Israel. However, it is not just Israel; numerous other countries throughout the region live in fear of an Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons.

It is a view widely held in security and academic circles that Iran’s breakout time—the time required to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon—may now be as little as several months. Some analysts are even talking in terms of a matter of weeks. That is an alarming decrease from the estimated 12 months’ breakout time that was at the heart of the JCPOA in 2015. By extension, a return to the JCPOA would not represent a return to the JCPOA of 2015. The situation has fundamentally changed for the worse and there is a new baseline.

I recognise that the ongoing negotiations will make it difficult for the Minister to touch upon specifics, but I encourage him to ensure that the UK considers the implementation of supplementary nuclear restrictions by the UK, our E3 partners and the US to compensate for the reduction in Iran’s nuclear breakout time. I particularly hope that restrictions such as the destruction of advanced centrifuges or components and a moratorium on centrifuge R&D and production are under consideration. The IAEA still has an essential role to play in the enforcement of the restrictions. Accordingly, I urge the Minister to ensure that the IAEA continues to have the UK’s full support and that it is empowered to finally verify the full extent of Iranian activities, both declared and otherwise.

I feel the international community keeps missing opportunities to hold Iran accountable. I believe that the Biden Administration have miscalculated by choosing to ease political and economic pressure on the Iranian regime, and that the expectation that doing so will lead to Iran renegotiating a stronger and longer JCPOA is misguided. I understand Iranian officials have already flatly rejected the idea. Conversely, the deliberate failure to meaningfully respond to Iranian non-compliance has led the country to commit ever greater acts of defiance and escalation. It seems that the collective failure to reprimand Iran for each acceleration of its nuclear programme simply underwrites its next transgression.

I strongly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments this month about working

“night and day with our friends and allies across the world to stop”

Iran from becoming a nuclear power. That is unmistakably an important commitment. I have said that the UK needs to be clear-sighted about its policy towards Iran. I have also reflected that the belief shared by some in Government back in 2015 that the JCPOA and our re-establishment of diplomatic ties with Iran would lead to rapprochement was not well founded. The regime has long since stopped warranting the benefit of the doubt. The Iranian Government have a consistent track record of banking any concessions they are given and using whatever means are at their disposal to push for more concessions, while never really altering the fundamental trajectory of their foreign policy and military goals.

I have heard it said—in fact, I read it in an article just last month by a former UK diplomat—that Iran is effectively posturing to secure maximum economic and diplomatic concessions, and that actually it has limited interest in seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. I regard such views as dangerously naïve, reflecting a long-standing desire on the part of some in western diplomatic circles to keep giving Iran the benefit of the doubt. There is a misguided and dangerous notion that if we keep showing more love and give more concessions to Iran, that will trigger a fundamental change of posture in Tehran, and it will emerge as a responsible member of the international community. I fear that Iran is continuing to play the international community like a fiddle.

As I listened to the Foreign Secretary’s recent remarks about Iran and the need for a network of liberty, I could not help but think that now—[Interruption.]

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 3:07, 19 October 2021

I do not wish to take up too much of the time left for this debate, as I would like other colleagues to have a chance to speak. I have taken a considerable amount of time to set out some of my arguments and concerns around the strategy that Iran appears to be pursuing.

I spoke of my encouragement from comments made by the new Foreign Secretary. I spoke about the importance of being clear-sighted about Iran and my concerns that the international community is at risk of being played by the Iranian regime, who constantly seek further concessions. They bank them and fundamentally do not alter their trajectory in any meaningful way when it comes to their military and foreign policy goals.

I will close my contribution with an appeal to the Minister, who I know has been listening very carefully. He was in the debate that we held in this Chamber 10 months ago on the same subject, and he is intimately knowledgeable of the details of the subject matter. We have a key moment coming up towards the end of next month with the board of governors of the IAEA meeting in Vienna. The option of censuring Iran for its continuing violations of the JCPOA is, I think, an option diplomatically that we need to keep in play. I do not expect the Minister to comment fully on that, but I ask that he listen, because we need to show as an alliance of freedom-loving nations that we continue to consider the full range of options in response to Iran’s strategy—diplomatically, economically and, yes, ultimately militarily, but that is not a subject for this afternoon.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

I can see that a good number of Back Benchers are wishing to contribute, so I will not put you on a formal time limit yet, but please be considerate of fellow speakers.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Education) 3:09, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Nokes. The objectives of the JCPOA are obviously hugely important in and of themselves, but it cannot just be seen through the lens of Iran’s nuclear capability, as it is in many ways a proxy for our wider relationship with Iran and the way that western countries engage with it. Developments around the deal can often have unintended consequences for other UK interests, and I want to talk about the unfortunate links between the JCPOA and Iran’s hostage taking, especially the high-profile detention of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Before I get to the bulk of my argument, I want to pay tribute to Sir David Amess, who always supported me in my campaign for Nazanin’s release. Despite us being from different political parties, he would always ask me about her, lend me support and put pressure on the Government to ensure that she was released. I was especially grateful that Sir David went to visit Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, when he was on hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy, and spent an enormous amount of time with him. Sir David did not have to go the extra mile, but he did. I am very grateful that he showed me that support.

I start my argument by condemning in the strongest possible terms the behaviour of the Iranian Government in jailing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for crimes that she did not commit. There can be no excuse whatsoever for jailing an innocent woman, depriving her of her child and separating her from her family in London. When I met with the Prime Minister and Richard Ratcliffe, the Prime Minister said to me that he would leave no stone unturned in making sure that my constituent was brought home. Despite all of these words, Nazanin is still being held in jail and put through hell, having spent over 2,000 days in detention. Other British citizens, including Anousheh Ashouri, have been taken hostage since Nazanin was captured.

It is very difficult for me as a constituency MP constantly to explain to Richard Ratcliffe why his wife has not been released and why our Government have not managed to release her, when he points to other countries, like Australia and the US, that have had much more success in securing the release of their citizens. It is something for which I constantly have to answer, and for which I do not really have a proper answer.

If we are to stand any chance of bringing Nazanin back to West Hampstead, back to her home, in the near future, we have to understand the motives behind Iran’s hostage taking, as unjustified as they are. The JCPOA and the sanctions it concerns are hugely important in determining Iran’s approach to foreign policy with the west. I am afraid that the JCPOA process has not helped Nazanin at all. Her husband, Richard, who has—I am sure that everyone in this House will agree—fought fearlessly for her freedom, argues that the way the process has been handled has compromised his ability to fight for Nazanin’s release by encouraging Iran to look for leverage in the negotiations.

No effort appears to have been made to use the JCPOA process to secure an end to hostage diplomacy, and there has not been a robust enough response from our Government to British citizens like Nazanin being taken as leverage. At the same time as an Iranian presidential candidate explicitly and publicly proposes, in a TV debate, an expansion of hostage diplomacy to gain leverage over the west, members of our Government are still refusing to state that Nazanin is a hostage.

We saw the latest manifestation of the political game that Nazanin is caught up in this weekend, when she was told the devastating news that her new one-year sentence and one-year travel ban, on yet more trumped-up charges, has been upheld in court. She is now waiting anxiously for a call to say that she even has to return to prison, where she has been for the last five years.

When it comes to Nazanin’s case, the biggest factor in this awful game is the historic £400 million debt that we as a country owe Iran. She has been told repeatedly by Iranian officials that that is the reason for her imprisonment, and Iranian leaders have all but confirmed that to be true. Over the last five years, I have dealt with countless Foreign Secretaries and countless Foreign Ministers who have repeatedly refused to acknowledge the link between our failure to pay that debt and Nazanin’s imprisonment. That is the reality of the situation. I really hope that the Ministers involved will recognise the link, because otherwise we will not bring Nazanin home.

I am very grateful to the new Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Elizabeth Truss, because she seems to have put Nazanin’s case at the top of her agenda and has already made an effort to contact me about it. I cannot express how grateful I am to have received a call and talked through the case, because unless we all work together, my constituent is not coming home anytime soon.

Clearly, we need a new approach. As hon. Members might imagine, I could talk about this subject forever, but I will not because time is short. We need a credible strategy to deal with Iran’s hostage taking. I want to ask the Minister a few questions. First, will the UK Government recognise Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a hostage of the Iranian state? Secondly, will the Government punish the perpetrators of this hostage taking, which they could do by placing Magnitsky sanctions on those involved, using Nazanin’s diplomatic protection status that we gave her to challenge Iran at the International Court of Justice? Thirdly, will we keep the promise to settle the UK’s debt to Iran? That is key to my constituent’s release. Fourthly, will we secure a commitment to end hostage taking in the JCPOA negotiations, to stop Nazanin and other hostages being used as tools?

How many more innocent British citizens does Iran have to imprison before our Government start to call out the hostage taking for what it is and take action in response? How many more years does my constituent have to be imprisoned before we change how we deal with Iran, including over the JCPOA, and pay the debt that we owe them? Things are getting more dangerous for British citizens, not less. I am afraid that our approach to foreign policy on Iran has exacerbated the risk. I urge the Minister to rethink. I know he knows the case well; he has spoken with me about it many times. Unless we have a robust challenge of hostage taking and stronger action, my constituent will not be coming home.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

Order. I would like to call the first Front-Bench speaker at 3.49, so it would be helpful if Members could keep their remarks to about four minutes.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 3:16, 19 October 2021

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb on securing this debate. It is a pleasure to follow Tulip Siddiq, who has a close interest in these matters, given the plight of her constituent.

Before the JCPOA, the international community had built up one of the most extensive arrays of sanctions against Iran ever imposed on any country, ever. That pressure brought the Iranian regime to the table. While some of those sanctions remain in place, many were lifted the moment the nuclear deal came into operation. That gave a significant boost to Iran’s oppressive theocratic regime and to its enforcers, the Iranian revolutionary guard. It meant even more money to fund its violent proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Gaza, Yemen and Syria, and left it free to pursue its genocidal intentions towards Israel, which its supreme leader is clear he wants to destroy utterly. Yet, as we have heard, the deal did not include Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its international sponsorship of terrorism or its shocking abuse of human rights. No wonder the Prime Minister called it a “bad deal”.

In August, the E3 coalition of the UK, France and Germany confirmed that Iran is in flagrant breach of its obligations, taking what it described as

“key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon”.

Its statement was clear that Iran has

“no credible civilian need” for the measures it has taken. What more belligerent violations are needed before the international community wakes up and snaps back those sanctions that have been lifted? I would appeal to the Minister, please, not to reward Iran for breaking its promises and for stepping up its rush to nuclear weapons. I appeal to him to accept that trying to revive this deal in its current form amounts to appeasement. It pains me to use such a loaded term, but that is what we are talking about.

The last time we debated Iran in this Chamber, our late colleague Sir David Amess expressed his regret that he was in his fourth decade of criticising the Iranian regime. For those many years, he campaigned bravely and forthrightly for a free and democratic Iran. All of us involved in the cause will miss him greatly. On this issue, as on so many others, he called it like it is. Time and again he denounced the appalling human rights record of the mullahs’ regime. Hundreds died in the November 2019 protests, when savage reprisals were meted out to peaceful protesters. Hostage taking leaves dual nationals trapped in Iranian jails for years on end. Journalists, bloggers and opposition activists are subject to intimidation and arbitrary detention. Women are deprived of basic freedoms and members of the LGBT community can face the death penalty just because of who they are.

Let us stop the pretence that the JCPOA can still be made to work. It is fatally flawed. It was always far too weak in what it asked Iran to do. All sanctions should be reimposed with Magnitsky measures applied against regime leaders, including those involved in the mass killings of 1988. It is time to stop appeasing this pariah regime and instead apply all the pressure that we can to ensure its economic isolation, so that we have a chance of delivering a deal that has a real impact, constraining its malign and brutal activities both at home in Iran and around the region.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak 3:20, 19 October 2021

I congratulate Stephen Crabb on securing this excellent debate. It is good to see you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I acknowledge the right hon. Gentleman’s comments about Sir David Amess, who I worked closely with on Iran. I miss him, too, and I am reminded of the wisdom and eloquence that he would bring to a debate such as this.

I have always been sceptical about the JCPOA because I feared that the Iranian regime could not be trusted to comply. Reluctantly, I came to accept the view that at its best it might buy a decade in which we could hope to slow Iran’s potential for developing a nuclear weapon, while the search for a better political alignment across the middle east could be pursued.

I am not sure about the wisdom of the Trump presidency’s decision to withdraw from the deal unilaterally, but I do think there were already many questions at that time about Iran’s compliance. The deal, as we have heard, involved a 15-year period over which it said it would reduce its stockpile of uranium and limit its work on centrifuges. We now know that by May 2019, and probably earlier, it had decided to lift the limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium, and that by September 2019, and probably earlier, it had also decided to lift limits on the research and development of centrifuges. By August of this year the IAEA was able to verify that Iran has produced enough enriched uranium metal for some to believe a bomb is imminent.

We are now in a position where Iran says it wants to resume talks on the JCPOA, but appears to be doing everything it can to prevent any real progress while continuing its nuclear weapons programme. Since the summer of this year we have also witnessed, as we heard earlier, the coming to power of Ebrahim Raisi, the mass murderer behind the massacre of political opponents and many others back in 1988 who refused to accept the regime’s extremism. It seems almost certain that he has lost none of his ambition to purify Iran of internal dissent and bolster the position of the IRGC, the brutal and sinister Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

We know Iran is tempted back into talks because of the dire state of its economy and the fear of the impact of further sanctions. We must not give too much too soon and we should be wary of the advantage of a new JCPOA that once again fails to tackle the role of Iran in producing ballistic missiles, and fails to address the regional threats resulting from its arming of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen.

There will also come a point where any gains from the JCPOA will become meaningless if Iran’s research and development passes the threshold beyond which the original agreement was designed to hold it. I do not say that our Government should not continue to work towards a new agreement, but I hope we will make it clear that it does not exclude international bodies from pursuing Raisi for his crimes against humanity, and it must be clear this time that the regime’s enrichment programme must be stopped completely and its nuclear sites closed. There must be verifiable inspections anytime, anywhere. It must also address regional activities and ballistic missiles, and it cannot ignore the behaviour of Iran when it comes to democracy, human rights or hostage taking, like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It cannot ignore the regime’s view that Israel does not have a right to exist.

Our Government should not agree to any conditions that seek to protect the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which I believe should be proscribed in its entirety under our terrorist legislation, as previously recommended by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 3:26, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb on securing this important and timely debate.

Listening to some of the contributions, I was reminded of my time on board HMS Kent in 2009. When we sailed through the Strait of Hormuz, there was the ominous sight of two Iranian vessels, shadowing us and watching us every step of the way from the opening of the strait up and into Bahrain, out of which we were based. This was at the time of the green revolution, which people might remember, when there was a brief flicker of hope that a better future for Iran might be achievable. Government supporters were burning Union flags and the stars and stripes, and castigating the west for involving itself in internal Iranian affairs, which, of course, it was not doing. The movement was a sign that the Iranian people wanted a better future for themselves and their country.

Sadly, the Iran of today is about as far removed from a better future and from those days as it is possible to get. One need look no further than the supreme leader installing Raisi as President, as has already been spoken about—a man who started his political career in the regime’s mass murder of political opponents back in the 1980s. Not only is Raisi subject to sanctions, but 12 individuals in his Cabinet are sanctioned, which is the highest number ever in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Following the signing of the JCPOA, Tehran was welcome to take a different choice. It could have taken the hand of prosperity, stood up for itself and fostered itself into the family of peaceful nations, but its commitment to destabilising the middle east is absolute. Not only do we and our allies suffer for it, but the Iranian people, who we have spoken about today, are worse off for it.

At the nexus of Iran’s regional destabilisation sits the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The UK Government have already underlined the threat that the IRGC poses not only to the region but to countries such as our own. The UK Treasury lists the IRGC and its infamous Quds force, as being subject to UK terrorism and terrorist financing sanctions. Although that is welcome, I believe it is time that the UK followed the United States of America in proscribing the IRGC. I urge my right hon. Friend the Minister to follow that up with his colleagues in the Home Office.

Sanctions work. We see that around the world, and history tells us that they work. After all, Iran’s decision to enter the JCPOA in the first place was the direct result of an unprecedented framework of sanctions imposed by the UK and other allied nations. The Biden Administration previously estimated that Iran’s trade dropped by 40%, or some $18 billion, during 2019 and 2020, as President Trump’s sanctions hit. They inflicted significant harm on Iranian Government finances and caused a collapse in the Iranian currency.

Despite the effectiveness of these sanctions in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, the new President’s team has taken a different approach, and it is understood that Iran’s financial position has already improved as a result of lax sanctions enforcement against its elicit oil sales. This will have secured Tehran invaluable revenue to stave off fiscal collapse, while emboldening it to continue destabilising regional policies and to continue its nuclear escalation.

In recent weeks, there have been reports that the Biden Administration may be willing to provide significant sanctions relief and release frozen assets. Some reports even suggest that sanctions could be lifted on banks, human rights abusers and those with links to terrorism. Does the Minister share my and other Members’ concerns at these reports? What assessment has he made of the effectiveness of the UK’s existing sanctions against the Iranian people who are already listed? What does the UK intend to do about the list of entities that have previously supported Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes, which are stated to be delisted in 2023 by the EU and the UK pursuant to annexe II and annexe V of the JCPOA nuclear deal?

Even if the JCPOA is resurrected and re-enforced, delisting these persons and entities will mean that, as the deal lurches on, Iran’s network of proliferators receive sanctions relief in the EU and the UK without being required to undergo a change in behaviour. I encourage my right hon. Friend the Minister to consider the UK leading an international effort to compile an exhaustive list of those responsible for human rights abuses in Iran and to hold them accountable through additional waves of sanctions. It should be a concern for us all that we have reached this point. Whether with our presence in the region or sanctions from Westminster, we must continue through free debates such as these to let the Iranian people know that we are speaking for them and Iran’s leaders know we are watching them. The Iranian people must know that their plight and the plight of the whole region has not been forgotten.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:30, 19 October 2021

I thank Stephen Crabb for bringing this debate and giving us all a chance to support it and be part of it. I will miss my colleague, Sir David Amess, as others have also said. He undoubtedly would have been here and standing up for democracy and justice, alongside us, as he always did in these matters.

I want to put on record some words which I did not have the chance to say yesterday, but that want to say today, if I may. I know that David was a man of faith and would have appreciated these words, which I believe would have been true of David, from 2 Timothy, chapter 4, verses 7 and 8:

“He has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.

Henceforth there is laid up for him the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to him on that day and not only to him, but also to all who have loved his appearing”.

We mourn his passing, but also celebrate his life and pass on sincere sympathies to his wife, children and family circle.

Few of us can plead ignorance of what is happening in Iran. We can all see the fact that life continues: the race for nuclear arms continues in violation of the joint comprehensive plan of action and, unfortunately, global inaction will allow this to continue to the detriment of us all.

I am sure that many of us have read the IAEA report, which makes clear that the regime has 10 kg of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade level, at a very dangerous point. In addition, Tehran has stockpiled more than 120 kg of 20% enriched uranium, also ready to go. Under the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal—the JCPOA—the regime is not allowed to enrich uranium above 3.5%. The maths are clear—you do not need to be an Einstein to work it out, Ms Nokes: Iran is above the threshold and in violation, and steps must indeed be taken, not just words. That is not a criticism, by the way, but we need something better than words.

In February, the IAEA inspectors confirmed that the regime had produced 3.6 grams of uranium metal at the Isfahan nuclear plant. The IAEA also warned that its verification had been seriously undermined since February by Tehran’s refusal to allow inspectors access to the IAEA monitoring equipment. One of its recent reports also stipulates:

“The presence of multiple uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at three locations in Iran not declared to the agency, as well as the presence of isotopically altered particles at one of these locations, is a clear indication that nuclear material and/or equipment contaminated by nuclear material has been present at these locations”.

These things could not be more serious or worrying, as others have said. What is not needed today—I say this with respect—is a strongly worded statement by the E3: the Governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom warning this is a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon. We need action. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, which I think everyone of us here has probably been invited to speak or has spoken at—Sir David was one of the speakers at every event held here—made five recommendations. I will make them here to the Minister, because I support them.

The six UN Security Council resolutions must be reinstituted and implemented. Secondly, the regime’s enrichment programme must be stopped completely and its nuclear sites must be closed. Thirdly, anytime, anywhere inspections must be carried out and the regime’s missile programme must be brought to a halt. Fourthly, the Security Council must recognise the regime in Iran as the main threat to global peace and security and place its nuclear programme under chapter VII of the UN Charter. Fifthly, the Government must proscribe the Islamic revolutionary guard, the IRGC, in its entirety under the Terrorism Act 2000, as recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee.

In conclusion, this House must seriously consider the steps that we take. This is a matter of life and death, and the security of this great nation and of every nation in the world. Words are not enough; we must act, and act soon. Do the five things that the National Council of Resistance of Iran have said to do, and we are going somewhere.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

If Members can stick to three and a half minutes, they will all get in.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 3:35, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb on securing this debate.

I rise as someone who thought that the JCPOA was a mistake in the first place. It was a mistake because we cannot trust Iran. We have the evidence; we know that they have the ballistic missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon. The evidence for that is clear. We know that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is responsible for terrorist acts around the world, attacking shipping in international shipping lanes and sponsoring terrorism across the middle east. That evidence is quite clear, and I agree with hon. Members across this Chamber that have supported the proscription of the entirety of the IRGC. I would go further: their assets should be sequestered and used for the benefit of the people of Iran.

The central point is whether we can trust Iran if we are going to negotiate with it. This is where we must remember my good friend, Sir David Amess. He was the leader of our delegation each year to the annual conference of the NCRI. He led Parliament, and in many ways the world, with his position on securing the ability of refugees from the regime of the mullahs to find safety in Camp Ashraf and beyond. The reality, as my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers mentioned, is that in 2018 there was a bomb attack planned on the NCRI conference. Sir David Amess, myself and others—including my right hon. Friend—were present at that conference. Had they succeeded, we would have all been killed—no question whatsoever.

The evidence is clear that it was a diplomat who smuggled that bomb from Iran into Belgium, using diplomatic bags and then passing it to two terrorists who would then insert it at the conference to destroy many world leaders. I predict that, had they succeeded, there could have been another world war—it was as serious as that. Can we trust people who use diplomatic channels in that way? There have been no consequences for Iranian diplomatic channels. I ask the Minister: what action is going to be taken? That diplomat has been found guilty and imprisoned. What action is going to be taken against the Iranians for their breach of diplomatic channels? It disregards every element of what should happen.

Equally, there is a pressing case in the not too distant future at COP26. The Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, is expected to participate in COP26 and come to this country, to Glasgow. This man, who was elected—or appointed—as the President of Iran by the regime of the mullahs, was the chief prosecutor for the 1988 massacres. He personally authorised the execution of nearly 30,000 individuals, including pregnant women and children, when the attempted purge of the minority parties in Iran was taking place. That was to eliminate people, and he still says that it is God’s command that this action should be taken, just because people do not agree with the exact terminology of the regime of the mullahs. This is the President who is going to be invited to our country to participate in important talks across the piece. The reality is that we cannot trust him, we cannot trust the regime, and we must take strong action.

I end with one aspect that I ask the Minister to reflect on. We cannot allow the Iranian Government to secure a nuclear weapon, because the threat to peace in the middle east is too great. We must say that they will not be allowed to secure nuclear weapons—ever.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Chair, Education Committee, Chair, Education Committee 3:39, 19 October 2021

It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. I should declare an interest: the Conservative Friends of Israel paid for accommodation at the Conservative party conference, and it will be on the register shortly. I am also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kurdistan.

It is with depressing predictability that these debates on Iran’s malign activities occur. The contributions of Members have been remarkably consistent. I have long held the belief that Iran can best be described as the Soviet Union of the middle east. I first made that observation in December 2011 and almost a decade later, it rings as true today as it did then. Iran continues to oppress its citizens at home, just as it uses its notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to export violence and instability abroad. Domestically, thousands of Iranians have been executed and hundreds more killed for daring to promote democracy. It is known for financing Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, as well set out by right hon. and hon. Friends and Members.

The JCPOA nuclear deal was presented to the world as a game-changing moment, a new nuclear framework that would restrain Iran’s nuclear programme and lay the ground for a reformed Iran. Far from it: Iran has retreated within itself, terrorism has increased and the dictatorship has continued. Iran appears to be deliberately raising the stakes in a belligerent effort, not only to advance its nuclear capabilities but to strongarm ever greater concessions from the P5+1.

The UK Government have previously likened the JCPOA to a hollow shell and recognised that it has failed to curtail Iran’s nuclear violations. The JCPOA also does not address Iran’s repression of internal minorities such as the Kurds, nor does it address the aggressive and expansionist activities of the state. The hope of western signatories is that the nuclear deal would come to discourage that bad behaviour, which has included missile attacks against Iranian Kurdish parties in the Kurdistan region, as well as support for and direction of the proxy Shia militia forces in Iraq. Under the direction of the late al-Quds leader Qasem Soleimani, that included participation in the violent seizure of Kirkuk on 16 October 2017 following the peaceful independence referendum in September. Of course, the Kurdistan Regional Government support diplomatic relations with all their neighbours, but the Iranian regime cannot be trusted by its own people or the neighbouring countries.

Does the Minister think that the return to the JCPOA framework will alter Iran’s behaviour and does he intend to tackle Iran’s egregious human rights abuses and support for terrorism, which was so mistakenly omitted from the JCPOA? The UK has a proud record of placing human rights at the centre of our foreign policy and sanctions. Why not consider introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions against Iran? I have warned before that a nuclear Iran would not just mean a nuclear Iran; it means a nuclear Hezbollah, a nuclear Hamas and so forth. It sickens me to the stomach that we now stand on the edge of that becoming a reality.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South 3:43, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb on securing the debate.

It is regrettable that, despite the best of intentions, diplomatic efforts over many months have failed to bring Tehran back into compliance with the JCPOA nuclear deal. Since the dispute resolution mechanism was triggered by the UK, France and Germany back in January last year, Iran has accelerated the enrichment of uranium to near weapons grade and is now producing uranium metal. It was hoped that Tehran would engage constructively with the DRM process, but it quickly became apparent that Tehran had no desire whatsoever to re-join negotiations, even triggering the DRM itself in July of last year in an act of defiance.

Yet instead of notifying the UN Security Council of Iran’s non-compliance and triggering a vote on the snapback of sanctions, the E3 have repeatedly pledged that they are committed to preserving the JCPOA. By refusing to accept that the agreement could no longer be resuscitated, the P5+1 allowed the UN arms embargo to expire last year and sent a clear message to Iran that no matter what its transgressions, it will not face any consequences. That is particularly troubling given that a further sunset will end in 2023 on the UN ban on Iran’s missile programme. We must be clear-sighted on this. Our failure to act has given Iran the green light to further develop its nuclear capabilities and harmful regional influence.

Just as so many feared at the time the agreement was signed, Iran’s network of terror proxies is the principal beneficiary of sanctions relief. From reportedly providing the Hamas terror group with $30 million per month, to cajoling the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon, Iran’s terrorist network reaches far and wide. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps directs this activity, and it really is time that the UK proscribes the IRGC to send a clear message that Iran’s malign activities will not be tolerated. At a time when Israel faces greater threats from terror groups than ever before, the support of its neighbours and the international community is paramount.

By separating Iran’s nuclear programme from its other destructive and oppressive actions, the JCPOA failed to address Iran’s goal to destabilise the region, with a nuclear weapon as its ultimate insurance policy. To finally hold Iran to account, we must accept that the JCPOA simply cannot be revived. I hope that the Minister will provide some clear red lines and assure me and colleagues that the UK will rule nothing out to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Conservative, Bury South 3:46, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb for securing this important debate on Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. Many hon. and right hon. Members have perfectly articulated the dangers of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, and I add my voice to their concerns. For the sake of the safety of our close allies in the middle east, this issue must remain at the forefront of our foreign policy agenda.

However, I am also going to highlight a different issue from those raised by my colleagues: the mendacious and pernicious Iranian regime being a real threat to Jewish communities in my constituency and beyond. Every Member participating in this debate and all right-minded Members of the House must continue to be shocked and appalled that a community here in the UK requires synagogues, schools and community centres to be behind gates, with security guards. I pay credit to the Community Security Trust for its work in keeping the Jewish community safe and secure. One of the many reasons it exists is that Iran remains a state sponsor of terrorism; the US Government designated it as such in 1984.

Iran directly and indirectly promotes terrorism against its perceived adversaries, which includes Jewish and Israeli interests worldwide. Iran and its proxy Hezbollah operate globally and possess international terrorist capabilities. The 2019 intelligence assessment of the US office of national intelligence stated that both Iran and Hezbollah will continue to develop global terrorist capabilities. In 2018 and 2019 alone, authorities in Poland, Albania, Denmark, France and Germany arrested or expelled Iranians or blamed Iran for engaging in assassination and terrorist-related activities in their countries. Iran and Hezbollah have been responsible for numerous anti-Jewish terrorist attacks, plots and operations for over 40 years. The highest profile incident was the appalling bombing of the AMIA community centre, which was ordered by Iran and executed by Hezbollah. CST’s reports have detailed more than 30 examples of executed, failed or foiled Iranian and Hezbollah attacks worldwide, directed at Jewish communities and Israeli interests across the globe.

Here in the UK, there have been many outspoken rallies and public displays of support for the Iranian regime and Hezbollah. Who could forget the awful antisemitic chanting through the streets of London during the annual al-Quds Day march? More recently, the al-Quds Day march has been organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which has a direct link to the Iranian regime through one of its co-founders. When General Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, was killed in an American drone strike, there were vigils in Luton, Manchester, Birmingham and London. At one such event, the chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission stated:

“we hope and we pray and we work hard to make sure that there will be many, many more Qassem Soleimanis.”

There are many more example I could give, but I am precluded from doing so by time constraints.

In conclusion, this is an organisation based here, in our streets, in this country. It is hardly surprising that Jewish people feel anxious. Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, but its mendacious actions across the UK and abroad must also be stopped.

Photo of Alyn Smith Alyn Smith Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 3:49, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I warmly congratulate Stephen Crabb on securing this debate, and also commend him on a very measured and serious speech, which I entirely agreed with. I also strongly agree with his point—I am conscious that I am paraphrasing, but it is useful for some Members to be reminded of this—that not everything that happens in the middle east is about Israel. Plenty of other countries across the middle east have a great deal to fear from a nuclear Iran. As friendly outsiders to all communities in the middle east, it is incumbent on us to look at a wider prism than the interests of just one community or country.

My party’s standpoint on any matters nuclear is that we abhor nuclear weapons. We do not want to see proliferation around the world. We also want to see the UK rid of nuclear weapons, and we want them out of Scotland’s soil. That is, of course, a different discussion, but my party’s proposition is that, as an independent state, we will get rid of the nuclear weapons and employ more people in conventional defence, which will be more effective and better suited. It will also be a better example for the world. If we are serious about cutting back on nuclear proliferation, let us consider our own role in encouraging these weapons. That is a different discussion for a different time, which I look forward to.

However, there is much agreement on both sides of the House today, and I would like to focus on that. We all agree that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a massively negative influence in the middle east and the wider world. My party supports the JCPOA. I take on board a number of the criticisms and concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House, and we are not naive about its failings or the failings and, indeed, mendacity of the Iranian regime. However, we do favour talk, and I would Members what their proposition is if they are not in favour of the JCPOA. If they are not in favour of talks and an internationally binding legal agreement, what are they proposing? We are open to Magnitsky sanctions, and we are open to other embargoes, but we do believe that the JCPOA, with its faults, is the best chance of bringing Iran to the table.

We therefore support the UK Government’s efforts. Indeed, I suspect I am more supportive of their efforts than some Members on the Government Benches in today’s discussions. I commend the Minister for what he has been doing, because—I agree with the concerns that have been expressed by Members on both sides of the House—the signs are not encouraging. The IAEA’s report confirmed that Iran has stepped up enrichment of uranium. There is absolutely no justification for the levels of enriched uranium that Iran now has and its capacity to make more. There is no civilian purpose for such a product. It is simply an effort to achieve nuclear weapons, which must be resisted and stopped.

The news yesterday that there will not be a Brussels meeting to try and push on the JCPOA efforts is dispiriting, but we must continue. We must push on these efforts. We need to give more impetus to these efforts, not less. We cannot be seen here to be undermining efforts at talks when they are under way. I urge the Minister to continue his efforts, to get stuck in and to breathe some impetus into these talks. I would be grateful for an update if he can give one, given the confidential nature of those discussions. He can be assured of Scottish National party support for his efforts and indeed those of the wider Government.

Having expressed that support and demonstrated, I hope, bipartisanship, can I also make a plea? Can the riot act please be read to UK Government Ministers to stop them playing fast and loose with respect for international law? The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said recently that the protocol would be breached in a “limited and specific way”. Those are not the words of a serious Government that respect international law. It sets a bad example for the bad actors who already exist in the world. Then, an unelected Lord, a member of the UK Government—it is telling that many do not like unelected bureaucrats and decrees by high muftis or whoever else in Tehran—absolutely disingenuously said that elements of the EU withdrawal agreement were contingent or would somehow fall away, when that was not the intention of the UK Government, and it certainly was not the intention of anybody else.

Over the weekend we then saw, most egregiously of all, the Lord Chancellor, no less, floating the constitutionally and legally illiterate idea that the Government will somehow intervene in and overturn decisions on human rights where the judges get them wrong. It is this Parliament that changes the law, not the Government. That sort of statement would not be out of place in Tehran, and we must be conscious of the examples we are setting.

Where the UK Government are serious about breathing life back into these talks and stopping nuclear proliferation anywhere in the middle east, but especially in Iran, they will have SNP support. I encourage the Minister to make more efforts in that regard.

Photo of Wayne David Wayne David Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:54, 19 October 2021

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Nokes. I had hoped to speak yesterday about Sir David Amess. He was a man of great knowledge and experience, and he had a great interest in this area. I got to know him very well during the last few days of his life. He was a very decent and honourable man, and we all regret his passing.

I congratulate Stephen Crabb on securing a debate on what he says, quite correctly, is an extremely important issue. As has been made clear this afternoon, the multilateral negotiations with Iran have stalled. Progress had been made when President Rouhani of Iran was in power, but a deal had not been concluded before he left office in August this year. Since then, President Raisi has come into office and the talks have stopped. I am sure we would all agree that this is a worrying situation, as my hon. Friend Steve McCabe said very clearly.

According to the Tehran Times, the Iranian Foreign Minister said to the Iranian Parliament that the United States

“must certainly take serious action” before any new negotiations take place. According to some commentators, it seems that President Raisi is adopting a hard approach. That is extremely worrying. Because of Iran’s violations of the JCPOA, Iran could, if it was so inclined, produce enough nuclear material for a nuclear bomb literally during the next few months. In the past year, Iran has successfully enriched uranium to a new threshold just short of the grade needed for a nuclear weapon. In addition, there are other weapons-related activities that are currently prohibited by the JCPOA that Iran might develop under the guise of civil nuclear necessity. These reports all make the situation very concerning and raise the question of how the international community should respond. We know that both the United States and Israel have threatened to use force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons—I would suggest that it is in the back of the minds of one or two Members here that that might happen. However, we should be acutely aware of the huge risks involved in military action. We should be cognisant of the fact that as Kelsey Davenport, director for non-proliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, has said this could

“backfire in the long run”,

and a

“larger-scale attack could push Tehran to consider abandoning its Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitments” and developing nuclear weapon production

“in order to deter further attacks”.

An alternative option has been suggested, and I ask Members to think about it. That would be to restore the JCPOA talks on the basis of an interim agreement or a gesture-for-gesture arrangement that reduces the proliferation-sensitive activities of Iran in exchange for certain and very limited sanctions relief for Iran. If that approach was successful, it could take us beyond the current impasse and allow for new negotiations to be mapped out that would take us beyond the confines of the JCPOA, which many Members have accurately pointed out, and give us scope for sanctions relief. That could provide the opportunity to address other concerns about Iran’s activities—namely, as Members have mentioned, the development of a ballistic missile programme designed to deliver nuclear weapons, and Iran’s support for terrorist groups and militias throughout the middle east. Those must be placed near the top of the agenda. In other words, perhaps there needs to be a short-term approach but also a longer-term perspective if we are serious about dealing with the issue of Iran in the long term.

Finally, we are all extremely concerned about the widespread human rights abuses occurring in Iran as we speak. Hostage taking is absolutely deplorable. I congratulate my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq on her determination in championing the case of her constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but also those of the other dual nationals who are held illegally in Iran. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that specifically, to see whether any progress has been made.

Our country must go beyond its current approach of discreet pressure on Iran regarding human rights abuses. We should be actively considering extending Magnitsky-style sanctions against key Iranian perpetrators of human rights abuses. I would like to hear the Minister’s response to that suggestion specifically.

Iran is an ancient country. It has a rich culture, is capable of developing a strong and diverse economy, and has the potential to be a positive member of the international community. However, that will happen only if we are firm in our goals and determined to work in partnership with the United States and the European Union by insisting that firm objectives must be realised.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 4:01, 19 October 2021

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Nokes. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb for securing this incredibly important and timely debate. I am also grateful for his recognition, and that of a number of hon. and right hon. Members, that I am in many ways constrained in terms of how much detail I can go into in this important and sensitive debate. I thank hon. Members for their understanding.

We have heard thoughtful, balanced and significant contributions by a number of hon. and right hon. Members this afternoon. Iran’s nuclear programme is, sadly, more advanced and worrying than it has perhaps ever been. That is why we are so focused on negotiating a deal that returns Iran to full compliance with the JCPOA commitments and doing so as soon as possible. Between 2015 and 2019, the joint comprehensive plan of action demonstrated that it could deliver results. For the UK and the international community, it restricted Iran’s nuclear programme to civilian use and supported the global non-proliferation system. For Iran, phased sanctions relief offered a more prosperous future for its people.

However, Iran has failed to comply with its JCPOA commitments for more than two years now. It continues to upgrade its nuclear capability, permanently and irreversibly. There is no doubt about this. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has verified Iran’s actions. Today, Iran’s nuclear programme is more advanced and worrying than ever before. The IAEA confirmed in August that Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20% for the first time, and Iran has significantly increased its capability to produce uranium enriched up to 60%, as a number of hon. Members have mentioned in the debate.

It is impossible to overstate the severity of Iran’s actions. It has no credible civilian need to take such steps. It is unprecedented for a state without nuclear weapons to enrich uranium to 60%. Meanwhile, Iran has withdrawn from the JCPOA-agreed monitoring arrangement. That means that the IAEA has lost crucial insight into the status of Iran’s nuclear programme, precisely at the time that Iran is escalating its activities. There is no credible reason why the IAEA’s access should be restricted. There has never been a clearer imperative to halt the nuclear escalation and for Iran to return to the JCPOA commitments.

The diplomatic door remains—currently—open, but Iran must urgently return to talks in Vienna and engage in good faith. We remain committed to delivering a successful deal. A restored deal could also pave the way for further discussions on regional and security concerns, including in support of the non-proliferation regime.

While the JCPOA is not perfect, it is currently the only framework for monitoring and constraining Iran’s nuclear programme. We have fully upheld the JCPOA commitments from our side, including the lifting of sanctions. From April this year, we engaged in negotiations in Vienna, in good faith, alongside the US and other partners. Iran stepped away from those negotiations in June, after 10 weeks and six rounds of talks.

The UK, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China all stand ready to resume negotiations with Iran. We want to conclude the deal that is on the table. There is a substantial offer from the US on the table—to lift sanctions inconsistent with the JCPOA in exchange for Iran’s return to full compliance with its nuclear commitments. That is a both fair and comprehensive offer, but Iran has, thus far, failed to seize this opportunity.

We should be clear on this—time is running out to conclude a deal, and we may soon have to reconsider our approach. Every day that Iran delays talks and escalates its nuclear programme, it hurts its own economy and its own people the most. Iran’s current action is not in Iran’s best interests. With the diplomatic door still open to restore the JCPOA and lift sanctions, Iran must come back to the negotiating table, as a matter of urgency, to pick up where we left off. In the meantime, we will continue holding it to account for its nuclear escalation and wider destabilising behaviour.

A number of Members have spoken about British dual nationals in arbitrary detention in Tehran. The UK Government remain absolutely committed to securing their full release and returning them to their families and their loved ones. We will not rest until that is done. All Members should recognise that that incarceration is the fault and responsibility of the Iranian regime—no one else, nowhere else.

A number of right hon. and hon. Members mentioned the sanctions regime. We currently have more than 200 UK sanctions designations in place against Iran, including those related to human rights abuses and against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety. Right hon. and hon. Members will understand that it is not useful to discuss or speculate on future sanctions regimes, as that might undermine their authority. We will continue our approach based on a combination of engagement, pressure and incentives.

As Wayne David said, we want to see a prosperous and peaceful Iran that feels secure within its own borders, and does not pose a threat to this country, our interests, or our allies. We are ready, willing and able to reach a negotiated settlement to that effect. It is now up to Tehran to engage seriously in that process.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee, Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee 4:08, 19 October 2021

I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks and those clear statements of his understanding of the position regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. I am pleased that there seems to be agreement in the Chamber this afternoon on the facts on the ground. We have independent verification of those facts. I believe there is a strong measure of consensus in the room about just how serious the crossroads is that we have now reached with Iran. There is widespread concern, as expressed this afternoon, about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and the consequences not just for the middle east region but for international stability and the whole world.

I believe there has been a strong message this afternoon to Ministers and the Government on the need to be robust and keep all options on the table—we completely understand why the Minister cannot comment on some of the detailed specifics that have been put to him. I believe that Iran’s regime responds only to strong pressure, and I remain sceptical about moves to give further concessions to the Iranian regime when it has shown so consistently in the past that it banks them and then seeks further concessions.

Tulip Siddiq has reminded us just how sensitive some of the issues around hostage taking are, and of the links between those issues and some of these big, strategic questions that we have discussed this afternoon. I am grateful for a very constructive and interesting debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.