James Cleverly leads a debate on regulations that rollover existing EU sanctions regimes into UK law and tells MPs that the UK now has an independent sanctions policy to support our foreign policy and national security interests, so the UK can use sanctions to act as a force for good in the world.
Exiting the European Union (Sanctions)
I beg to move,
That the Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 608), dated 18 June 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22 June, be approved.
With this we will take the following motions:
That the Burundi (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 1142), dated 18 July 2019, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19 July 2019, in the last Parliament, be approved.
That the Cyber (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 597), dated 15 June 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 17 June, be approved.
That the Guinea (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (S.I., 2019, No. 1145), dated 18 July 2019, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19 July 2019, in the last Parliament, be approved.
That the Misappropriation (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1468), dated 7 December 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9 December, be approved.
That the Nicaragua (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 610), dated 18 June 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22 June, be approved.
That the Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 590), dated 11 June 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15 June, be approved.
That the Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 951), dated 3 September 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 8 September, be approved.
That the Unauthorised Drilling Activities in the Eastern Mediterranean (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 1474), dated 7 December 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11 December, be approved.
The nine instruments before us were laid between July 2019 and December 2020 under powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, also known as the sanctions Act. As the House will be aware, on 31 December 2020, the UK took control of its sanctions policy and we now have a full suite of sanctions regimes at our disposal under the sanctions Act. This provides the legal framework within which the UK may impose, update and lift sanctions, whether autonomously or in line with our UN obligations now that we have left the European Union.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the very serious campaign to take action against China because of the treatment of the Uyghurs, and we are asked to produce motions on genocide, but it seems to me that now we have left the European Union, that action is now in our hands, so will he confirm that we can now take robust action against the Chinese Government in the form of sanctions, perhaps against the fashion industry or on importing cotton from that part of China? We now have the freedom to act if we want to, and I hope that the Government will.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the point that he has made, and I will go into a bit more detail about the framework within which we can operate. He will understand that the Government choose not to discuss any future sanctions we may impose, to prevent either the movement of moneys or other things that we might approach, but my colleagues in Government and I absolutely hear the point that he has made.
Our sanctions regime is the foundation for an independent sanctions policy in support of our foreign policy and national security interests. With this framework in place, the UK can use sanctions to act as a force for good in the world. Working with partners both old and new, we can collaborate to project our values and tackle unacceptable behaviour wherever we find it. Our global human rights regime is just one example of this. Of course, where collaboration is not possible or where swift leadership is required, we now have the freedom to act, as we did with Belarus and, most recently, in relation to Zimbabwe. On Monday, we designated four security sector chiefs who were responsible for the worst humanitarian rights violations committed against the people of Zimbabwe since President Mnangagwa took power, including the deaths of 23 protesters. Our sanctions send a clear message that those responsible for such acts will be held to account.
In order to establish individual sanctions regimes within the framework of the sanctions Act, we are required to lay statutory instruments. Among other things, these instruments set out the purpose of the regime, the criteria for designation, the measures imposed, exceptions and licensing arrangements, and the offences and penalties for contravention of these measures.
Of the nine instruments we are considering today, seven transition existing EU regimes into UK law. The UK is at the forefront of developing multilateral contributions on sanctions and has played a large part in shaping the EU’s approach. As a result, the measures contained in the UK sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel bans, are intended to have substantially the same policy effect as those in the regimes that they replace.
Certain types of sanctions measures, such as asset freezes and travel bans, apply to those who we designate. The instruments themselves do not specify which individuals or entities will be designated. Designations are instead made through an administrative process and published on the UK’s sanction list. Officials assessed all those designated under the EU regimes against the test established in the sanctions Act and UK policy objectives before the end of the transition period. The vast majority of EU designations met those criteria.
The two remaining instruments amend other statutory instruments that established sanctions regimes. These amendments are designed to ensure that our entire suite of sanctions legislation is as consistent and clear in its provisions as possible. Many regimes contain the same sanctions measures, and consistency in language promotes consistency in interpretation, application and enforcement. British businesses often export goods or provide services to more than one country that is subject to sanctions, and any inconsistency in the wording of legislation can cause confusion and increase their compliance costs. The amendments also ensure that UK persons in the Crown dependencies and overseas territories are not unduly impacted by extraterritorial application of UK law. They create an exemption for the extraterritorial prohibitions so that a licence from the authorities in that jurisdiction is sufficient to authorise a UK person’s conduct there. Those persons do not need also to obtain a licence from the UK authorities in order to avoid committing an offence under UK law.
I will elaborate a little further on the purposes of the seven regimes that these instruments establish. The Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 are aimed at promoting peace, security and stability in Bosnia and respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. They are also intended to encourage compliance with, and the implementation of, the general framework agreement for peace, which established Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single sovereign state. The regulations permit the imposition of financial and immigration sanctions. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the countries in the western Balkans most at risk of instability. Its domestic political situation is affected by institutional dysfunctionality, diverse ethno-nationalistic rhetoric, attempts to undermine the functions of the state and its institutions and challenges to the general framework agreement for peace. These sanctions are a public demonstration of our enduring commitment to promoting stability and security in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Burundi (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 aim to encourage the Government of Burundi to respect democratic principles and institutions, the rule of law and good governance in Burundi, to participate in negotiations with political opponents in good faith to bring about peaceful solutions to the political situation in Burundi, to refrain from policies and activities that repress civil society in Burundi, to comply with international humanitarian rights and to respect human rights. They permit the imposition of financial and immigration sanctions. Following elections in May 2020, there was a peaceful transfer of power to a new President in June 2020. Nevertheless, we continue to have concerns about the human rights situation, and we believe that these sanctions continue to have a role in promoting respect for human rights in Burundi.
The Cyber (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 are aimed at preventing certain types of cyber-activity that undermine the integrity, prosperity or security of the UK or any other country. They are also intended to prevent certain types of cyber-activity that cause economic loss or prejudice commercial interests, undermine the independence or effective functioning of an international organisation or otherwise affect a significant number of people in an indiscriminate manner. The regulations permit the imposition of financial and immigration sanctions. The cyber threat is growing, with attacks increasing in their intensity, complexity and severity. Malign actors in cyber-space are able to carry out attacks on other countries’ critical national infrastructure, democratic institutions, businesses and media. These sanctions demonstrate that there are consequences for such attacks and restrict access to the resources for those who would seek to carry them out.
The Guinea (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 aim to encourage the Government of Guinea to properly investigate the violent repression that took place on 28 September 2009 and its aftermath and to hold those responsible to account. These sanctions make clear that these events, in which more than 150 people were killed, have not been forgotten, and that their perpetrators should face justice, as well as providing a deterrent for the future. The regulations permit the imposition of targeted financial and immigration sanctions.
The Misappropriation (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 are aimed at deterring and providing accountability for the misappropriation of state funds from a country outside the UK. They permit the imposition of financial and immigration sanctions. Rather than establish geographic regimes, as existed under the EU legislation, this statutory instrument creates a single thematic regime under which designations can be made in respect of misappropriation of state funds taking place anywhere outside the UK, allowing for greater agility and flexibility. Corruption, and in particular misappropriation of state funds, has a significant negative effect on national and international prosperity, security and governance. The cost of corruption worldwide is estimated to be more than 2% of global GDP. These sanctions are part of our wider strategy to combat this issue.
The Nicaragua (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 are aimed at encouraging the Government in Nicaragua to respect democratic principles and institutions, the separation of powers and the rule of law; to refrain from the repression of civil society, and to respect human rights. The regulations permit the imposition of financial and immigration sanctions. These sanctions function as a clear signal of our intention to maintain the pressure on the repressive Ortega regime and as a tool through which we can exert this pressure.
The Unauthorised Drilling Activities in the Eastern Mediterranean (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 aim to discourage any unauthorised hydrocarbon exploration or production activities in the territorial sea or exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus or on its continental shelf. They permit the imposition of financial and immigration sanctions. We recognise, and have consistently stated our support for, the sovereign right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit the oil and gas in its internationally agreed exclusive economic zone. Cyprus’s oil and gas should be used for the benefit of Cypriots. These sanctions demonstrate our opposition to unauthorised drilling and the violation of other states’ sovereignty.
Sanctions are a key part of the UK’s foreign policy toolbox, and feature in many of our political and diplomatic strategies. We use them to change unacceptable behaviour by coercing or constraining those involved, or by sending a political signal that their actions will not be tolerated. They also contribute to our efforts to uphold and defend the rules-based international order. The UK has long been a global leader on sanctions, and that will not change now that we have left the European Union. Our independent sanctions policy allows us to use sanctions to achieve maximum impact, working in a way that is agile, expertise-driven and in support of our values, and which enables collaboration with both new and established partners.
International co-operation is at the heart of our polity. Sanctions are most effective when implemented and enforced collectively, and we will continue to co-ordinate closely with our European and other international partners on sanctions. These regulations are a crucial part of the legal edifice that underpins our sanctions policy, of which the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 is a keystone. With them in place, we can promote and protect security, stability and prosperity at home and overseas, call for accountability and justice, and deter human rights violations and abuses. In short, we can project the UK as a force for good in the world. I welcome the opportunity to hear the views of Members about the regulations and to answer their questions. I commend these regulations to the House.
At the conclusion of the debate
I am genuinely grateful for the contributions that have been made from a number of corners of the House. I think it sends a very important international signal that although there are many subjects on which we have deeply felt and legitimate disagreements, right across the political spectrum here in the United Kingdom there is a real unanimity of voice when it comes to the importance of sanctions and the UK’s place in the world.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for his thoughtful contributions and questions, which I will attempt to cover in this closing address. I also thank the hon. Members for Stirling (Alyn Smith) and for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and, although he is no longer in his place, my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) for their contributions.
As I said at the start of the debate, this year represents a crucial moment for the UK’s foreign policy. We now have in place a framework that can be used to act as a force for good in the world. The UK supported these sanctions when we were a member of the EU and we hope that, by carrying them over into UK domestic law, we have made a clear statement—which I believe has been reflected in the contributions of others in the House—that we choose to adopt them, not because we were coerced into them by our membership of the European Union, but because we absolutely believe that they are the right things to do.
I will permit Mr Shannon to join in, because I know he has been following the debate from outside the Chamber.
I thank the Minister; I have been watching the debate on TV.
My question is specifically about Northern Ireland. Does the Minister believe that the sanctions proposed in the statutory instruments will address Gaddafi and Libyan-sponsored terrorism? American victims of events on British soil are entitled to reparations, while our citizens languish for years without it. That is a very important issue for us in Northern Ireland, and the rest of the United Kingdom as well. How will the provisions address the extradition of terrorists such as al-Senussi, Gaddafi’s general, who has still not been made to face justice in Britain after supplying the IRA with Semtex that was used in 250 bombings? Will the Minister confirm that these regulations will prevent that failure from being repeated?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He pays assiduous attention to the debates in which he contributes, and I am glad that he has been able to take part despite the gremlins in the technology.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the fact that the imposition of sanctions does not prevent the UK Government from being a force for good domestically as well as internationally. I am not able to go into detail on the specific matter that he has raised, although it is important. We always ensure through our sanctions regime that we are able to stand on the international stage feeling proud of the work we have done, which is driven by a moral point. I will correspond with the hon. Gentleman to provide more details about his specific question.
A number of hon. Members rightly raised current and future co-ordination with the European Union. As I stated initially, it is important that we understand that the United Kingdom has a discrete and autonomous sanctions regime; the EU may choose to pursue sanctions different from ours. Nevertheless, we know that sanctions are more effective when they are delivered in co-ordination, and we will continue to co-operate closely with our allies, partners and near neighbours in the European Union, in co-ordination, where possible, with other countries around the world, so that we can be more effective in the work we do through our sanctions regimes.
As the human rights spokesperson for my party, I also wish to ask a question about regulation 8 of the SI on Bosnia. Is the provision that the Secretary of State
“must take steps to publicise the designation, variation or revocation”
compatible with our duty to respect the human rights of individuals and family members of said alleged offenders? How does the Minister believe the balance between sanction and interference is achieved?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his important but technical point. I do not want to go into too much detail at the Dispatch Box; again, if he will forgive me, I will make sure that my officials take note of his point and that we write to him about it.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth asked whether there was a pause between the end of the transition period and now. I assure him that the regulations were laid in the course of 2019 and 2020, and came into force on 31 December, so there was no interruption in the sanctions regime.
Colleagues around the House have suggested examples of where our sanctions regime could be applied in the future. Rather than address each individually, I make the point that we have taken notice of those examples, in many of which very important, severe and concerning issues are at stake. It is the long-standing policy of the UK Government not to discuss future sanctions and future designations to prevent, for example, the flight of individuals or the hiding of funds that may be the target of our sanction regimes, but I can assure all Members that the examples they have raised will be taken into consideration.
I understand what the Minister is saying. On a practical point, Members are regularly approached with very serious evidence, sometimes involving individuals who may have been committing atrocities.
How can independent human rights organisations and others best input into the decision-making process, even if he does not want to pre-announce those designations?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I would not wish to imply that any method is precluded. The most traditional method is that individuals and NGOs contact the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I often read correspondence from right hon. and hon. Members across the House bringing their concerns to my attention. That is, of course, a well-established way of doing it. Once we are once again able to come together physically in this place, the tap on the shoulder in the Division Lobby, the Tea Room and the corridors is also a traditional way for right hon. and hon. Members to bring matters to our attention in a discreet way. I completely recognise that there are times when raising an issue on the Floor of the House can put individuals in greater danger. We are passionate about making the sanctions regime a success and a meaningful tool as a force in the world, and we are more than happy for Members across the House to bring their concerns to our attention.
Cyber-sanctions will be one of our key tools as an autonomous regime. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth highlighted that it will be an increasingly important part of the work we do. He also asked about the designations in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We have mirrored the EU structure and we have a framework in place. Although there are no designations in place at the moment, it is there as a very visible method to reinforce the importance we attach to peace, stability and prosperity, to be used at some point in the future if needs be.
I think almost every Member who spoke today raised the situation of the Uyghur Muslims and China. As the Foreign Secretary said, we have serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang, including the extrajudicial detention of over 1 million Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in political re-education camps, the systematic restrictions on Uyghur culture and the practice of Islam, and the extensive invasive surveillance targeting minorities. On 12 January, the Foreign Secretary announced a series of robust measures to help ensure that no British organisations—Government or private sector—deliberately or inadvertently profit from or contribute to human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other Muslims.
We have taken a leading international role in holding China to account for its human rights violations in Xinjiang. We led the first international joint statements on this issue at the UN General Assembly Third Committee in October 2019 and in June 2020 at the UN Human Rights Council. On 6 October 2020, alongside Germany, we brought together a total of 39 countries to express our grave concerns about the situation in Xinjiang in a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Third Committee. In addition, the Foreign Secretary raised Xinjiang directly with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, on a number of occasions.
The situation in Myanmar has also been raised. We consider the recent election to be broadly representative, as do international observers, and we consider the National League for Democracy Government led by Aung Sang Suu Kyi to be the legitimate Government in Myanmar.
We wholeheartedly condemn the coup d’état, the military seizure of power and the detention of the State Counsellor and other political and civil society leaders. The attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the recent elections are completely unacceptable.
Indications in the press yesterday and in the media today suggest that China may have played a bigger role in the coup. Has the Minister had any opportunity to speak to the representatives of China to express deep concern about any involvement in the coup, taking away the democratic process and imposing an autocratic process?
It would not be appropriate for me to speculate on involvement in what has happened in Myanmar, but the hon. Member will have seen that the Foreign Secretary has made a statement on this, in conjunction with others in the international community.
The Minister is being very generous in taking interventions. A moment ago, in relation to China, he mentioned the importance of UK-based companies and their role, and he is now speaking about Myanmar. Will the Government look again at the situation where the UK’s Commonwealth Development Corporation has been investing in telecommunications companies in Myanmar that have been complying with Government-ordered repression and blockages of internet sites and others, which not only have potentially covered up atrocities against the Rohingya people, but could be being used now? Will he look again at that investment and whether it is appropriate in the current circumstances?
I thank the hon. Member for his intervention, and I will ensure that I speak to my ministerial colleague in the other place, Lord Ahmad, about that matter.
The instruments we have been considering today demonstrate the range and scope of the situations in which we use sanctions. I am grateful to hon. Members across the House who have raised other circumstances where we might choose to do so. The instruments also demonstrate the outcomes that they are intended to achieve. From promoting respect for human rights to protecting our national security, sanctions are a vital part of a great many of our international strategies.
As I set out in the opening speech, the regulations provide the legal basis that enables us to carry out our independent sanctions policy within the framework of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act. Approval of these regulations will help to preserve our status as a global leader in this field. More than that, it will mean that we can stand with the EU and other international partners and act together to ensure that unacceptable behaviour—violation of human rights, violation of the rule of law, and threats to prosperity and security—do not go unchecked or unchallenged. I commend the regulations to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (S.I., 2020, No. 608), dated 18 June 2020, a copy of which was laid before this House on 22 June, be approved.