President of Iran: Death

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(2 months ago)

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Asked by
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implications for UK foreign policy of the death of the President of Iran.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, and Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, died in a helicopter accident on Sunday 19 May. The funeral, as noble Lords will be aware, is taking place today. Our policy towards Iran has not changed. We remain committed to supporting the Iranian people in the challenge of the human rights abuses that they face, and, importantly, to holding Iran to account for its destabilising activity. As we have said repeatedly, Iran must adhere to international norms and standards in any upcoming election.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. First, do the Government have access to any intelligence that may shed light on the effect of the President’s death on the population at large in Iran? There have been some reports that the reaction has been somewhat muted. Secondly, are the Government or the West more generally able to do anything to use the current situation to assist pro-democracy groups in Iran, as a way of undermining support for a regime that, among other things, so brutally denies women their political and civil rights, and recently launched the first ever direct attack on Israel?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Viscount will have noted, I made reference to Iran’s destabilising activity. We have all, not least within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, been fully seized of the challenges we are facing in the wider region. That said, I know we were at one when we saw the tragedy of Mahsa Amini and the suppression of human rights in Iran. I speak as the UK Human Rights Minister in saying that it is important that, while this was clearly a horrific accident, our thoughts remain with the Iranian people as they continue their struggle for human rights and dignity within Iran.

Gaza: Humanitarian Aid

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Asked by
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate
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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to increase the amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, because humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and the release of the hostages are top priorities.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Order!

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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My Lords, we are doing all we can to increase aid into Gaza. We have been collaborating with Jordan on humanitarian air drops and are now working with partners to operationalise a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus. However, this cannot substitute delivery by land, which remains the best way to get aid in at the scale needed. Israel must open more land routes, including in the north, for longer and with fewer screening requirements. I have been clear: we need an immediate humanitarian pause to increase aid into Gaza and get the hostages out. Israel must remove restrictions on aid and restore electricity, water and telecommunications.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, the House understands that aid from the air is problematic and aid from the sea takes time. Can the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why he has been unable to persuade the Israeli Government to allow the border crossings to be opened to provide the access for the hundreds of trucks needed daily? What are the Government intending to do so that, when the aid reaches Gaza to the people who so desperately need it, it is distributed to the people on the ground by local networks not controlled by Hamas?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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We have repeatedly made points about the need to open crossings and allow more aid in. I can give the latest figures to the House. They are slightly more encouraging. The average number of trucks getting through per day in January was 140. This fell to 97 in February but has gone up to 162 so far in March. So we are making a difference. The opening of Kerem Shalom happened, and that made a difference. With regard to what is happening on the maritime front, which is encouraging, I say that, if Israel really wanted to help, it could open the Ashdod port, which is a fully functioning port in Israel. That could really maximise the delivery of aid from Cyprus straight into Israel and therefore into Gaza.

On the noble Viscount’s question about how to make sure that aid gets around Gaza, that is one of the trickiest pieces of the jigsaw. One of the things that Israel needs to do is give out more visas to UN workers who are capable of distributing the aid when it arrives in Gaza.

Israel and Gaza

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Tuesday 27th February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend has hit the nail on the head, has he not? He suggests that Hamas does not accept the right of Israel to exist, and the Israeli Government do not accept a two-state solution. When two combatants will not agree on what, as my noble friend has said, is the only solution—a two-state solution—surely the inexorable logic is to pick up on the word that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, used: enforcement. Is it not the case that the only way we will get a peace settlement in the Middle East is by the international community enforcing its will on these two combatants in a way that we have not yet considered?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I assure my noble friend that we are considering all elements. When we look at the two combatants, as he described them, Israel is a recognised state with international obligations and is important as a partner and friend. We remind it of its obligations. Those with influence over Hamas are reminded that violence is never a means to an end. Enforcement means we ensure that every lever of our diplomacy, every lever we have working with our international partners, is used on both sides to ensure, first and foremost, that the fighting stops; secondly, that we build the process to ensure sustainable peace; and, thirdly, that it is understood that there will be no future peace unless we have two nations that recognise not only their own sovereign right to exist but, equally, that the people and citizens of those two countries must enjoy equal rights, security and justice.

Lord Turnberg Portrait Lord Turnberg (Lab)
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My Lords, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is intolerable, but I want to ask the Minister about the role of UNRWA in all this. UNRWA was certainly in league with Hamas in many of its recent actions, and on 7 October. Now it seems to be playing a role in preventing aid getting across. I heard today, for example, that it was preventing forklift trucks appearing at crossings to allow the transfer of goods. It was also stopping the world food agency getting food in, which Israel is trying to promote. UNRWA is playing a bad game. What does the Minister think of that?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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UNRWA has been severely challenged over the reports and allegations made against specific members of UNRWA staff. In that regard, I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me that the UN acted quite decisively on the individuals whose names were shared by Israel with UNRWA. I do not agree with the noble Lord on some of the specifics of what these individuals were doing. From speaking with the Palestinian Authority, I understand that they had an important role in Gaza in providing support. I am not aware of the specific report about forklift trucks that the noble Lord raises. I will certainly look into that.

As I said earlier, we are fully supporting the wider UN effort. The noble Lord will know that the Secretary-General and former French Foreign Minister Colonna are conducting an investigation into the specifics of UNRWA and its future. It is important that the concerns that we and our international partners have raised are fully mitigated before we look at any future funding and support for UNRWA.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, will the Minister accept some well-earned thanks for the tireless efforts that he and the Foreign Secretary have made in recent days? But I think he is saying now—perhaps he will confirm this—that, for any short-term pause or ceasefire to be sustainable, it needs to be anchored in a medium to long-term diplomatic negotiation about Israel and Palestine and their respective statehoods. Does he not think that the position he has spelled out this afternoon risks once again slipping back into a situation in which Israel, which we all recognise as a state, declines to recognise Palestine as a state, and the longer-term negotiations therefore get nowhere?

Would it not be better to think in terms of a situation in which all participants in the negotiation for a long-term solution—not just Israel and Palestine; it would certainly need to include all the Arab states around—recognise from the beginning that they are talking about two states and that the only point of the negotiations is to determine their mutual relationship in peaceful coexistence?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. He has also demonstrated his insights as a very distinguished former diplomat. I can assure the noble Lord that is exactly what we are doing. I mentioned the immediate, the medium and the long term. These are all pillars that we are currently working on. I assure the noble Lord that it is not just our traditional partners; we are working very much with key partners in the Gulf; we are working with those countries which have peace agreements with Israel—namely, Jordan and Egypt—but also, importantly, the Abraham accord countries, which are also playing an important role. Our approach is that every country, every nation across those pieces, from the negotiations to the delivery of the two-state solution ensuring peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians, whatever equity they can bring to the table, they should bring it now, so we can determine the plan and work to a single process, which involves, as the noble Lord says, all key partners, the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also all those who long for, as we do, a sustainable peace now to ensure stability and security for the whole region.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, the concept of a two-state solution must be more than an empty slogan. I recall some years ago even Prime Minister Netanyahu appeared to accept the concept. Obviously, Israel must have security guarantees, and presumably the new Palestine state must be demilitarised with proper guarantees, but how does the noble Lord see the next steps? The two-state solution can only come about as a result of a step-by-step movement. What are the immediate steps in prospect?

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I think I have already stated what the immediate step is. Before we can go anywhere in terms of the political horizon, we need the fighting to stop; that must be the first part of the delivery of this process, and that is exactly where we are focused—in terms of those who have influence over Hamas, but also we are working very closely with Israel to create the conditions to allow the hostages to be returned and for aid to enter Gaza on the scale that is now needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. That is needed now. However, we fully accept that there will need to be reconstruction, there will be a need to ensure sustainable amenities and there would also need to be security guarantees for Israel. I assure all in your Lordships’ House that is exactly the kind of conversations across the piece that we are having, not just with the Israelis and Palestinians but also, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with key partners in the region, who also want to see for their own citizens security and stability in the region.

Lord Clarke of Nottingham Portrait Lord Clarke of Nottingham (Con)
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My Lords, practically every Government from outside that is taking an interest could quite easily agree on the path that my noble friend has been describing, leading to a two-state solution and a permanent ceasefire. The difficulty is there seems to be not the slightest prospect of Hamas ever agreeing to accept the continued existence of Israel and not the slightest chance of a Netanyahu Government agreeing to a two-state solution, which they would regard as giving Hamas a victory for its 7 October activities—and they probably have the majority of the Israeli population at this present time agreeing with them at least on that. As noble Lords have indicated in earlier questions, the only way that anyone can foresee the kind of agreement that my noble friend has been describing being reached is by some sort of enforcement mechanism being applied from outside. A peacekeeping mission would need to be established to try to ensure that it does not all collapse and go back into calamity in a very short time. I realise that that is a big proposition, which could never happen unless the US Government began to take an interest in that kind of intervention. Have the British Government considered that kind of approach? Have we ever raised it with our American allies? Is there any prospect of getting together with the Arab states to contemplate such a thing? Otherwise, although we wish every success to the present activities, I cannot believe that many people listening to this are optimistic about their success.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My noble friend will know from his time in government that there are details that are currently under way with regard to securing what is necessary for Israel and providing it with security guarantees. That will constitute a presence beyond the Israeli Army that is currently in Gaza that has the confidence of the Palestinians within Gaza, but, importantly, has the security guarantees that Israel needs. We are working on that.

On the specifics, of course we are working hand in glove with the Americans. My noble friend will have seen the Secretary of State’s repeated engagements in the region, and we are complementing those. This is very much a coherent effort. If I may personalise this, in my almost seven years at the Foreign Office I have never known a diplomatic effort of this nature that is so intertwined with key partners—not just traditional partners, such as those within the EU and of course the US, but our key partners in the region that are playing the important role of ensuring that the Arab presence on security will be acceptable to the Palestinians. I cannot go into more detail, but I assure my noble friend that we are very much seized of that.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I must have given way about six times already.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Portrait Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD)
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I thank the noble Viscount. The Minister and other noble Lords have spoken about getting humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. That is the first thing that needs to be done. How will we in the UK, the US and others get that aid to the people of Gaza and not let it be taken from them by Hamas to store in its tunnels and feed to its workers? I am not reassured that that aid, when and if it comes, is actually going to get to the people of Gaza. I invite the Minister to tell us how the international community can achieve that.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Obviously, the situation in Gaza is fluid, but there are processes that we have to go through that include Israeli checks as the aid goes into Gaza, so there are mitigations in place. Until we get a full assessment of Gaza, it will never be possible to establish what the needs are, but we are hoping that the pause will lend itself to making the needs assessment and the security assessment that are necessary. Perhaps we will hear from the noble Viscount now.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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I thank the Minister. I want to ask a practical question about the desperately needed humanitarian aid. Like me, other Members of this House may have seen the video footage of the air drop that was made to the hospital in northern Gaza of UK aid in co-operation with the Jordanian air force. Can the Minister assure the House that this is the type of practical activity that will continue for as long as necessary, bearing in mind that, although he said earlier that hundreds of trucks were needed every day, this type of targeted assistance, which, as I understand it, went directly to where it is needed, will continue for as long as possible?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I can make that assurance to the noble Viscount. To pick up on the previous point, such aid deliveries could not be achieved unless they were co-ordinated with Israel. The UK Government are seized of what we need right now. We are working on maritime and air access, and I emphasise access through operational points at the border, particularly Kerem Shalom, which is six lanes wide and was made for the very purpose of ensuring that aid could be delivered expeditiously into Gaza. I am sure I speak for every noble Lord, irrespective of where they are on what is understandably a highly emotive situation: we are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and we need to ensure that we use all the levers and every method possible to make sure that aid reaches those who most desperately need it.

Iran

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Thursday 6th July 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I will take each of the issues in turn. First, on the governance and the announcement made today, this is a new Iran-specific sanctions regime, which is, in terms of the geography, the first autonomous one. We have had rollovers of what we did with the European Union, but this is specific to Iran. When we have previously sanctioned, we have done so under the so-called Magnitsky-style sanctions for human rights violations. That is why the Foreign Secretary was able to announce a further 13 designations under that governance structure of the human rights sanctions regime.

On the issue of charities, we of course work very closely with the Charity Commission. Without going into further details, there is an ongoing review of all organisations that operate to ensure that they adhere to the rules of the Charity Commission. On the suppression of communities within Iran, it is startling and abhorrent that in 2022 Iran executed at least 576 people. That is a minimum figure and is nearly double the previous year. The latest assessments in 2023 indicate that the rate of executions continues to climb, I think to circa 300 already this year. A lot of these executions have what can only be described as a fragile basis. Our long-standing view on the death penalty is very clear: we oppose it. Equally, it is shocking to see that these are young people, often men, who have committed nothing but protest. Even some who have brought glory to Iran are now subject to this most abhorrent of measures.

I referred to the JCPOA as a live deal in as much as it is the one on the table. E3 co-operation continues. As I said, we continue to engage at official level. There is much speculation about, but I will resist the temptation to comment on it; my noble friend will appreciate that. Its primary objective must be non-proliferation and that Iran does not progress on to acquiring nuclear weapons. The JCPOA provides those provisions. As I said, it still awaits a key signature: that of Iran.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The House will support and understand the measures that have been announced. The Statement refers to

“other hostile activities towards the UK and our partners”.

Can the Minister confirm that this includes cyberattacks and cyberwarfare conducted from within Iran, whether the actors are state actors or bad actors operating from within Iran?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I can answer that: yes, we have recognised, both privately and publicly, that there are state actors and others who seek to target the United Kingdom and our key allies. Technology is a new tool, and we need to be very vigilant on mitigation to ensure that the private sector and our public sector services are fully protected.

Sudan: Refugees

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Wednesday 24th May 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I want to acknowledge the huge contribution being made by neighbouring countries. The noble Baroness mentioned Chad, which I think has taken 75,000 people, but Egypt has taken well over 100,000, South Sudan 71,000 and Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Saudi Arabia and Libya have all taken significant numbers. If there are other specific examples of difficulties—she alluded to two—I will be keen to ensure that they are seen by the Home Office, which holds responsibility for this policy. To reiterate, our current refugee resettlement schemes allow us to support the most vulnerable refugees direct from regions of conflict and instability. Through those schemes, the UNHCR refers refugees whom it has assessed as in need of resettlement here. For some —indeed, for many—people, it is nevertheless in their best interest to stay close to the region or in a neighbouring country, where there are often similarities in culture, language and bureaucracy, and where they can be supported by international organisations, including the UN, which we support financially.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister mentioned that more than 1 million people have been displaced, and that is very serious. But can he tell the House why the Government brought to an end a year early the money allocated to Sudan through their own programme under the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund—the CSSF? In retrospect, does he not agree that this was a mistake? In light of the continued violent conflict, will the Government now restart funds for Sudan under the CSSF programme?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, the CSSF is one tool, or fund, within government that has targeted support historically to Sudan and a whole range of other countries, but it is by no means the only fund available to government. As I mentioned earlier— I will not repeat the figures—we remain a very significant funder. The commitments that we have made in recent days and weeks have added to what is already a significant flow of support to the region.

EU: Trade in Goods (European Affairs Committee Report)

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Thursday 2nd February 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I begin by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. We have never met but I have followed her career over many decades—admittedly not as far back as the 1960s nor in the Young Conservatives, but I have followed it nevertheless. I know what a distinguished career she has had in both this House and another place, especially as Minister of State for Overseas Development and Minister for that department’s successor, DfID. I once visited one of her successors in that post, the Member for Leeds Central, and saw the noble Baroness’s photograph on the wall of former Ministers. I can report that she was regarded with great affection by members of staff in that department, all those years later. That is not always true of every Minister. I wish her very well in the years ahead in everything that she has outlined.

In my experience and as has been pointed out, it takes all too long for a report, once published, to be debated in this House. Often, that delay is a disadvantage; I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, takes that view. Sometimes the heat may have gone out of a subject—I am not sure that is the case here—or events may have overtaken it but, on this occasion, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, that it is advantageous that we are debating this today because of the amount of time that has passed since December 2021. I hope that, when people read today’s debate, it turns out to be a somewhat more honest assessment of the position on GB-EU trade.

I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and his committee, on having produced this report. I am not a member of the committee and am in a minority of speakers in this debate for that reason, but I think that it is advantageous to consider this now. One advantage, to anticipate the speech of the Minister, is that, as a result, we are likely to hear somewhat less about the effects of Covid as a reason why trade with the EU is difficult and has suffered. We know, of course, that Covid made a big difference. As the noble Earl said, the committee itself stated that it was hard to disentangle the effects of Covid and Brexit at the time when the report was written. However, now it is a little clearer, which is why the Minister will probably not need to refer to the effects of Covid in quite the same way. After all, if it was simply Covid that affected our trade with the EU, we might as well pack up the debate and go home now. Where are we three years after we left and what do we know? I want to run through a few points as quickly as I can as a contribution to this debate.

First, leaving the EU single market and customs union has undoubtably been bad for the economy and bad for trade. British businesses exporting to the EU now have to contend with costs, paperwork and red tape that they did not face before. In addition, as the committee states,

“the inconsistent application of the new rules by different EU Member States”

has only made things worse.

Secondly, SMEs have been particularly affected. According to HMRC, the number of UK businesses exporting goods to the EU has fallen, unfortunately, by an astonishing third between 2020 and 2021, and in the main, it is thought that most of those are small businesses that simply gave up in the face of the Brexit red tape that exists.

Thirdly, proof of this is partly shown by the insolvencies that have been higher than average during the pre-Covid pandemic period. I will spare the House a range of statistics that I got on this basis about insolvencies, which have been greater in number than at any time since the end of the financial crisis in 2009 or thereabouts.

Fourthly, at a macro scale, we now know more than we did about independent projections for the UK economy. The House will know that the UK is now forecast by the IMF to be the only G7 country likely to move into recession this year, and we are certainly the only G7 country that has a smaller economy than we did before Covid. The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said that the Bank of England said today that we are going to move into recession but it will not be as bad as it might otherwise have been. I accept that, but it is still not good. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that both exports and imports will be around 15% lower in the long run than if the UK had remained in the EU, and Brexit will reduce long-run productivity by about 4%. The OBR says that the UK has

“missed out on much of the recovery in global trade.”

Bloomberg Economics has said that Brexit is costing the UK economy £100 billion a year.

Fifthly, while all these costs have been imposed on British businesses trying to export to the EU, the Government have, as has been mentioned, so far delayed implementing the full checks on goods coming into the UK. The committee’s report explicitly referred to “disquiet” among GB businesses—what a wonderful word; it is an understated term—about the ongoing

“asymmetry in the border regimes, with GB exporters … facing a far more rigorous import regime than … EU business sending goods to GB.”

I will not go into the biosecurity issue, but it may come up later. Why do we not have these import controls? The answer is fairly clear: we do not have the capacity to undertake the checks, in terms of both the staffing and the infrastructure, as the committee noted, and probably because the Government are afraid of the consequences in the form of further shortages and delays if they are introduced. When I talk about capacity, I mean that in some obvious cases, people are understandably worried that there simply is not the physical room to implement proper checks on incoming EU goods.

The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, “When you look back, people predicted huge queues but they never happened.” I am tempted to say that he should have been with me in July last year on the first day of the holidays, when it took me seven and a half hours to get to the Folkestone Eurotunnel instead of one and half hours. The delay was considerable—it was all over the news.

Moreover, if we look ahead, as noble Lords may know, the EU is now planning not just to introduce a visa system for entering the EU but to fingerprint us. When that is introduced, and everyone has to get out of their car and be fingerprinted, the queues are going to be astronomical. That is not a prediction that I want to make, but nevertheless I fear that that is ahead of us. If the Minister wants to tell us that that is not the case, I ask him to do so when he winds up.

Sixthly, what about the trade deals? It is fair to say that almost all of them have replicated what we already had, while the two new ones, with Australia and New Zealand, are really quite small. I note that the former Environment Secretary, George Eustice, is on record as saying that the Australia agreement was

“not actually a very good deal”

because the UK

“gave away far too much for far too little in return.”

As for the promised trade deal with the United States, it is nowhere in sight and I should think it is quite a long way away, if it ever arises.

Seventhly, there is the issue of employment and skills shortages. The House knows that employers say how hard it is to find workers, especially in areas such as catering, hospitality, food and farming.

Eighthly, there are other effects too. I suppose these come under the heading of cultural trade, but they are none the less real. I shall mention two, and I hope the House will forgive me; this certainly was not in the committee report. Musicians and performers have found that the costs and visa red tape make touring in the EU not just more difficult but almost impossible. I am talking not just about professional orchestras, for whom it is bad enough, but about youth orchestras and young people, who used to go and tour around Europe in the summer—and the same was true in reverse—and got enormous cultural benefit as well as providing music across Europe. That has stopped completely, and I deeply regret that.

The next example is one that I came only across this week. The Minister has many responsibilities in his portfolio and it certainly does not cover this, but I read that there is a British zoo that is desperately worried that it can no longer move a rhinoceros, which is needed for breeding purposes to keep the species alive, because of the enormous amount of red tape involved. These things happen, and it is a terrible shame that they do.

Ninthly, we should not forget that in this debate there are things that the Government have tried to do which they claim will be a Brexit benefit but are actually counterproductive, if not practically impossible. As far as I know, they have twice delayed the introduction of a UK CA mark to replace the familiar CE mark, because businesses are asking what the point of it is.

Another, more serious example is the EU REACH programme. Noble Lords may not be familiar with this, but the REACH regulations governing the safety of chemicals are the bedrock for the way in which we deal with risk and hazard in a very important area. REACH was in fact the largest piece of legislation ever considered by the European Parliament when the regulations were passed some years ago. As I understand it, the Government have said they want to introduce a British version of the REACH regulations but that has now been delayed until 2025, while the UK chemicals industry says it would entail enormous costs for no benefit whatever. When the Minister winds up, I would be grateful if he could say a word about the Government’s plans for the UK REACH programme.

Tenthly, we have to face up to the huge and complex EU retained law Bill, which plans to put a sunset clause on all EU-derived legislation unless it is saved. We had a taste of that at Questions this week, when the Minister was asked for a guarantee that the Government intended to retain the TUPE regulations but failed to give it. What will be the effect of that Bill? I think it will produce a lot of confusion on the part of business and the public as to what the law and regulations are and will be, and I am not sure that that is very good for investment.

Of course, the UK’s relationship with the EU has been damaged by the Northern Ireland protocol Bill. I say only that we hope that the negotiations succeed and that some of the collateral damage, including our non-participation in Horizon Europe, can be solved in the end.

Eleventhly, in the face of all this evidence, it strikes me as interesting that people who particularly argued for Brexit are now rather more unsure, as they struggle to understand what has gone wrong. I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, quite interesting in that respect, and I shall read it in Hansard. I hope there will be some common ground that we can find in the years ahead, some working degree of consensus that the UK needs, for its own future—a better working relationship with Europe. Perhaps when the time comes to review the TCA, we can find areas that need fixing and fix them, as has been mentioned in the debate today.

What do the public make of it? Opinion is still divided—and for a lot of people Brexit was about sovereignty, not the economy—but this very week John Curtice, the distinguished professor of politics at Strathclyde University, reported that the latest polls show that 58% of people think that Brexit was a mistake. We must now start talking about a new and different relationship with the EU, and the European political community is a good way to start. Accepting this committee’s report and everything in it would be a good basis for approaching the task ahead.

Missile Incident in Poland

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord will know from his own insights, experiences and dealings with Ukraine the importance of ensuring that we stand firm and solid with our friends and partners in supporting it. What President Zelensky’s country is going through is unimaginable. Let us not forget that, as I said, at the time of this incident in Poland missiles were flying in abundance over every city in Ukraine—every key city was under attack in a blanket, indiscriminate missile attack. What we saw in response from President Zelensky, whom we all agree has played an amazing role, was a strong defence of the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.

I know the noble Lord is fully aligned with that objective, but I give him that reassurance. That is why, as I said, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, along with other key G20, G7 and NATO leaders, talked directly from the G20 to the President of Poland and, importantly, President Zelensky about the importance of co-ordination. As Ukraine is confronting a time of war, it is important that calm heads prevail.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, the risk of miscalculation in war is very great. The Statement we are discussing is somewhat outdated and has been overtaken by events, which have shown that cool and calm analysis is necessary in what would otherwise be a dangerous situation. The noble Lord referred to the moment when he first heard the news; when I first heard it, like many others, I feared the worst. Fortunately, we now know what happened.

It was a coincidence that the G20 leaders were meeting in Indonesia. It is not for nothing that the photograph of people clustered around the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister has been published all over the world, but they just happened to be there together. Can the noble Lord assure the House that the experience of this incident will be used to make sure that the mechanisms for conferring within NATO and, in light of the previous comments, with the President of Ukraine—whose views slightly diverged from what has otherwise been a fairly common front—are absolutely in order? God forbid that this should ever happen again, but if it did, we would need an effective and quick mechanism to avoid the risk of any terrible miscalculation.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I agree with the noble Viscount. I assure him that, even within our internal systems, the importance of how information is cascaded, decisions are taken and people are informed is part and parcel of learning from any type of incident such as this. That needs to be reflected in the systems within the FCDO and the MoD and across government. I talked to officials yesterday about this very point. As he said, the G20 was together and President Biden immediately convened a meeting of the G7. That is why NATO matters. Different steps were taken in different places at the same time, which reflected the planning that has gone into ensuring co-ordination at a time of war. As I have said time and again, and I know noble Lords agree, this is not about one country being at war with another or a war on one continent—an escalation of this crisis would have global implications and consequences.

While it was perhaps coincidental, I suggest that there was also a degree of divine intervention at work to ensure that those leaders who have perhaps not been as strong in recognising the impact of this war, not just in terms of food or energy security but its degree of escalation, had that reality brought home. I assure the noble Viscount that the systems and structures are in place. I hope he also recognises that in some of the calls my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made; one of the trilateral calls he immediately made was with my right honourable friends the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary, to ensure that our response as His Majesty’s Government was fully aligned.

Ukraine

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Tuesday 1st November 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend speaks with expert insight on these issues, but I assure him that we are focused on immediate, medium and long-term support. The UK has pledged £100 million to support Ukraine’s energy security and reform, and £74 million in fiscal grant support to Ukraine through the World Bank. We have also provided guarantees which have unlocked nearly £1.3 billion pounds, $1.5 billion of World Bank and EBRD lending to Ukraine, and the first $415 million of this, and the second $500 million in September, have been deployed through the World Bank to fund key lines of government expenditure. This is done in co-ordination with the IFIs and key partners.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand from the Minister that it was Russia that convened the meeting of the Security Council at which this suspension was made clear. However, in the light of the comments from my noble friend Lord Collins and the right reverend Prelate, it is absolutely vital that the United Kingdom does everything it can in the Security Council to help the Secretary-General renegotiate or restart this agreement for grain, because so much of the world in parts of the Middle East depends on it for its existence.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I assure the noble Viscount that that is exactly what we are doing. Our excellent ambassador, Dame Barbara Woodward, has emphasised the importance of restarting this initiative. We are working closely with and behind the UN to ensure that the initiative, which is saving lives in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world, is restored as immediately as possible.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 11) Regulations 2022

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Wednesday 12th October 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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These hard-hitting new measures continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to do so and to work with our allies until Mr Putin ends his illegal, unjustified attack and war on Ukraine. I welcome this opportunity to hear views on these regulations. I beg to move.
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I hope the Minister will allow me briefly to mention the No. 11 regulations. I understand from what he said that they derive in part from discussions at the G7, and I presume that all G7 countries are in the process of putting similar ranges of sanctions in place in their own countries. Part 4 inserted by these very extensive regulations deals with chemicals and equipment—it is a very comprehensive list. Is this list the same as that being applied by other European countries? When I looked at it, I thought it might be derived from the former EU regulation on REACH, which is I think the biggest piece of legislation ever passed by the European Parliament. Are we co-operating on important measures such as this to have the effect that the Minister intends?

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister knows that these measures are supported by the Liberal Democrat Benches. As when we have debated previous sanctions, I am grateful for the Minister maintaining contact and keeping us informed. He knows of our strong support for measures which aim to ratchet up the pressure on Vladimir Putin and, as is included in these elements, the wider circle of his support.

We would support moving beyond the regulations to include the United Russia party and wider elements of the Russian regime in this part of the sanctions regime. We support the Government in the extension on state entities but, as the Minister knows well enough, there has been considerable state capture of the Russian economy by the Putin regime over recent years. This means that we should include in our sanctions regime not just the political actors but, increasingly, those in the wider economy. Therefore, the banning of certain exports and the wider inclusion of some state entities is to be welcomed.

I also welcome the work of officials on the impact assessments. They are useful tools to look at what the impact could be on the wider Russian economy. This leads to my first question. We have debated many sanctions but are yet to receive what I have asked for previously: an overall assessment of the net impact of the UK sanctions on the Russian economy and regime. I understand entirely that that document will be sensitive, but we must understand what the impact has been; otherwise, we cannot judge what could well be a situation where, in the long run, we want to move away from the sanctions regime. However, that is premature, as we want to increase the pressure.

That leads to my second question, on implementation. I noted that we have seen the first prosecution in the UK of what is effectively sanctions-busting. Can the Minister indicate whether that is an isolated case or if he is aware of more areas where there are active prosecutions of UK citizens and residents who have been acting against the sanctions regime in the UK? We need to know that these sanctions are being actively policed and implemented. They are pointless unless they are implemented in full.

This leads on to my third question: no doubt the Minister will have noted, as I have when I have been travelling, that the number of Russian nationals who have been using other transport routes through the Gulf—and Istanbul in particular—to access the UK and the European Union seems to have markedly increased since the sanctions regime was put in place. Is the UK monitoring passenger levels of individuals who are coming to the UK? I know that there is live debate on visa access for Russian nationals, both to the UK and to the European Union, but I would like the Minister to reassure me that this is being actively monitored.

Turning to the particular measures, I hope the Minister will forgive me for reflecting on one of the elements in the Explanatory Notes on the No. 11 regulations, but it is connected with yesterday’s debate which he and I participated in. On Regulation 7, the Government say:

“Failure to join the international community would undermine the UK’s reputation as an upholder of international law, human rights, freedom of expression and democracy.”


The debate that we had yesterday is relevant to what we are arguing for here in relation to upholding international law, and I wanted to stress that point.

With regard to the No. 12 regulations, the Minister said that our regime is now going beyond that of the European Union. I wonder if he could say a little more, with regards to energy, on where we have departed from the European Union and have now got a stronger regime. I am not opposing this, of course, but it would be helpful to have a little more information.

With regard to the No. 13 regulations, it is helpful that there is now clarification on shipping; this was raised in previous debates, and I welcome it.

Finally, I have a broader point on which I would like the Minister’s reflections. As he will know, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I have asked how we are working with our allies to ensure that our sanctions regime is not circumvented by friends and colleagues around the world, especially with regard to Russia accessing the very technologies and goods that we are now banning. The Minister knows well enough that Russia is very active in the wider Gulf, in Africa and in India in sourcing some of the materials that we are now banning. I previously raised the issue of concern with regard to the Indian rupee/rouble swap for purchase of energy. When I raised that question, the Minister said it was premature, but that arrangement is now in place. We are apparently only a fortnight away from signing a free trade agreement with India. At the very same time that we are banning the selling of certain goods to Russia, India seems to be increasing the selling of those goods to Russia. Could the Minister say what work we are doing with our allies to ensure that, whilst we are seeking to limit the sourcing of some of these materials to Russia, our allies are not increasing them? If the Minister could respond to these points, I would be very grateful.

Russia: Tactical Nuclear Weapon Deployment

Viscount Stansgate Excerpts
Tuesday 11th October 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Asked by
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks and consequences of the deployment by Russia of a tactical nuclear weapon, and of possible responses by the West.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper—but I wish it were not necessary to ask it.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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Likewise.

My Lords, President Putin’s comments are deeply irresponsible. No other country in the world is talking about nuclear use. President Putin should be clear that, for the UK and our allies, any use at all of nuclear weapons would break a taboo on nuclear use that goes back to 1945 and has held since then. It would lead to severe consequences for Russia. President Putin has launched an illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. His forces continue to commit senseless atrocities. The people of Ukraine are seeking only to restore their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we will continue to support Ukraine’s right to defend herself.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The House knows very well how terribly dangerous the situation now is, as reflected in the recent comments of the President of the United States. Would the Minister agree that the urgent priority for the UK Government, working with other nuclear powers, including China and India, should be to exert the maximum pressure on Russia not to use a tactical nuclear weapon? Would he further agree that it is in the interests of no nuclear power for nuclear weapons to be used and that, were that event horizon ever to be crossed, the world would face terrifying instability? Should we not be concentrating our efforts on trying to de-escalate the war in Ukraine?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, these discussions are happening all over the world; it is in no one’s interests whatever that President Putin comes even close to realising the mindless threats that he has been making. But it is incumbent on us, our NATO allies and powers beyond NATO to reiterate the risk that Russia itself and President Putin would face were he to go down that route. I think we can all agree that the language that has been used by NATO and by our friends in America has made that very clear.