Tobias Ellwood: The Government has helped to let Iran, a rogue state, off the leash. It’s time to rein it back in.

28 Oct

Tobias Ellwood is Chair of the Defence Select Committee, and is MP for Bournemouth East.

Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, was in a celebratory mood last weekend, as the United Nations’ long-standing arms embargo quietly expired. The occasion, in accordance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, was deceitfully proclaimed as a “win for…peace and security in our region”. This could not be further from the truth.

In reality, Iran is now unencumbered in its ability to purchase advanced weaponry to strengthen itself and its terror proxies, including Russia’s game-changing S-400 missile defence systems, and upgrading its outdated air force. Such systems would provide Iran’s nuclear programme with invaluable strategic protection.

It is for this reason that I have joined over 80 of my Conservative parliamentary colleagues in signing a letter outlining our concerns to the Prime Minister, coordinated by Conservative Friends of Israel.

The strength of feeling among the Conservative ranks is clear to see. There has long been widespread concern about Iran’s malign activities throughout the region, but it has become increasingly apparent that the UK’s response has failed to adequately meet the challenge.

The signatories were united in their view that the United Kingdom should have supported the efforts of the United States to secure an extension to the conventional arms embargo at the United Nations in August.

While recognising the political balancing act necessitated by ongoing Brexit trade negotiations, I fear that the UK’s abstention alongside France and Germany has regrettably facilitated the Chinese and Russians in their quest to sell advanced weaponry to Tehran’s fundamentalist regime. China has reportedly agreed a 25-year $400 billion defence deal with Tehran.

There are major questions hanging over the UK’s strategy towards Iran moving forward. While the EU arms embargo regime on Iran remains in place (until 2023), this will not prevent other actors from selling weapons. Certainly, existing UN resolutions haven’t deterred Iran from supplying arms to its terror proxies, and the UK now needs to work urgently with its allies to enforce existing resolutions more rigorously.

Iran’s support for terrorism has left a trail of destruction and death across the world. From Buenos Aires to Jerusalem and Bulgaria to Yemen, Iran-backed terrorists have killed untold numbers. Iran is not just a threat to Britain’s allies and international peace and stability – it has been linked to the deaths of dozens of British service personnel in Iraq.

Looking ahead, there needs to be a clear-sighted approach to Iran from the Government.

From continuing to enrich uranium closer to weapons grade above the JCPOA limit and increasing its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to ten times higher than permitted, Iran’s flagrant breaches of its commitments under the JCPOA has confirmed that the deal is not fit for purpose.

Time and again, Iran has chosen the path of a rogue state. At the time of the JCPOA’s signing, British officials spoke of an opportunity to reset relations. Iran had no such intentions, as most dramatically illustrated by the detention of our Ambassador for attending a memorial to the victims – including Britons – of a Ukrainian passenger jet in January. Not to speak of the continued imprisonment of British nationals on spurious and indefensible grounds.

Iran’s leadership has not earned the benefit of the doubt. The UK’s ongoing efforts to keep the JCPOA on life-support since triggering the Dispute Resolution Mechanism is not a sustainable strategy, just as the UK’s INSTEX mechanism to facilitate trade by circumventing US sanctions has essentially rewarded Iranian non-compliance.

Our Prime Minister was right when he said in January that the JCPOA has “many, many faults”, and called for a replacement deal. So, too, was the Foreign Secretary right to describe the nuclear deal as a “hollow shell”. Now is the time for UK policy to align with these statements of reality.

The UK is well placed to bridge the US with the EU and push for a new, broad framework. The framework must provide unprecedented regulation of Iran’s nuclear activities, an end to Iran’s support for terrorism and its ballistic missile programme – the primary means for delivering a nuclear warhead.

How do we ensure Iran returns to the table? It is an unavoidable reality that Iran was compelled to the negotiating table for the JCPOA process as a result of one of the most comprehensive sanctions regimes in history. The UK has introduced a welcome set of sanctions against Iranians linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but has desisted from the US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign.

Sanctions work, and it is time for the UK to consider further ones it can target against the regime, while making abundantly clear that these do not apply to legitimate humanitarian aid. Snapback of pre-JCPOA sanctions ought to be under consideration and would be in full accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, as necessitated by Iran’s “significant non-performance”.

The continued resuscitation of the JCPOA despite Iran’s clear non-compliance is not only short-termist in thinking, it is fundamentally ill-considered. The framework has been fatally damaged for some time and the focus must now be on diplomatic efforts to secure a strengthened, broad deal.

Iran’s defiant advancement of its nuclear programme now risks proliferation across the Arab world, at a time where hitherto unthinkable peace deals are being agreed between Israel and Arab states.

We are at the beginning of a new chapter for the region – one based on prosperity, shared interests and peace. But unless the UK readjusts its current thinking that chapter may never get written.

The Government’s Integrated Review is about re-establishing our post-Brexit global credentials and our desire to help shape the world as a force for good. This must include greater strategic engagement in the Middle East and standing up to the destabilising actions of the Iranian regime.

Peter Oborne & Jan-Peter Westad: Conservative MPs with Muslim constituents are starting to speak up about Kashmir

26 Oct

Peter Oborne is a columnist for Middle East Eye. His books include Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan. Jan-Peter Westad is a freelance journalist.

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir joining India. The region has been a source of bitter dispute between India and Pakistan ever since.

In India, October 27 will be celebrated as “Accession Day”. But in Pakistan, and for many Kashmiris, it is known as Black Day.

With Narendra Modi’s treatment of Kashmir becoming steadily more brutal, commemorations this year will be sombre.

Kashmiris have been under heavy restrictions since India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August last year.

This status had given special privileges to permanent residents of Kashmir, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property.

It was designed to protect the state’s distinct character as the only Muslim-majority state in India.

Many of these rights have since been undermined by further legal changes. Government jobs that were previously reserved for Kashmiris have now been opened up to Indian citizens. It has also been made easier to revoke residency rights.

With the outbreak of coronavirus, heavily armed police line the streets in ever greater number. Following a communications blackout at the time of the revocation last year, internet access and other means of communication remain limited.

With the outbreak of coronavirus, heavily armed police line the streets in ever greater number. Following a communications blackout at the time of the revocation last year, internet access and other means of communication remain limited.

Journalists, too, face harassment and imprisonment. Nearly 400 journalists & civil society members have called for the release of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan who has been in jail for more than two years.

Only last week, the office of the Kashmir Times, an English-language daily newspaper, was sealed off by Indian officials.

Properties have been destroyed and innocent people are losing their lives. According to human rights organisations, between 1 January and 20 June, there were 229 killings, of which 32 were civilians, 54 were government forces and 143 were militants.

One would have thought this would be a matter of grave concern for the British government, which has gone to great lengths to announce itself as a defender of human rights in recent months.

Earlier this year, Dominic Raab announced new sanctions on human rights abusers. A move he said was “a demonstration of Global Britain’s commitment to acting as a force for good in the world.”

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office embarked on a highly publicised campaign to protect worldwide media freedoms last year. It constantly uses social media to warn, for example, that “journalists are under attack across the world, threatening basic human rights such as freedom of expression.”

But Raab and the government’s words on Kashmir have been conspicuously sotto voce.

At the time of the revocation in August last year, Raab “expressed concern” to India about their actions, but no action was taken.

Britain’s then high commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith, was similarly limp.

He said the “UK’s position has not changed one degree….We are no different today than we were a year ago, which is, the question of Kashmir has to be sorted out bilaterally between Indian government and Pakistani government, taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people.”

The government’s position appears to be unchanged, as Nigel Adams, the Asia Minister, made clear. Responding to a written question in July saying it was for India and Pakistan “to find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir”.

To sum up: the official policy of Boris Johnson’s government has been to ignore the Kashmir issue. And pretend that it does not exist.

Hence the importance of the resuscitation of “The Conservative Friends of Kashmir” group in September.

This comprises a group of nine Tory MPs. They tend to have one thing in common: a significant number of Muslim voters in their constituencies.

Many are in areas of Yorkshire or the North West with high Muslim and Pakistani populations, including Mark Eastwood, MP for Dewsbury.

The so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats in the north of England do not just contain a large number of white working class voters. Large numbers of Muslim voters live in them too.

Marco Longhi is MP for the red wall seat of Dudley North in the West Midlands, another region with a large Muslim and Pakistani population. He’s part of the group.

Another member, Steve Baker, is MP for Wycombe where, according to the last census, 13.4% of the constituency are Muslim and 11.8 per cent are Pakistani.

There are more than a million British Pakistanis. Many of whom hail from Kashmir. As many as 70 per cent have been estimated to originate from the Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, which is administered by Pakistan.

Many British Pakistanis maintain close ties to family in Kashmir. They view the situation in India-administered Kashmir as a great injustice and a burning issue.

And it’s now becoming an issue for certain Conservative MPs keen to hold onto their seats. These MPs are not helped by a foreign policy which gives the appearance of kowtowing to Narendra Modi’s BJP government.

The chairman of Conservative Friends of Kashmir is Peterborough MP, Paul Bristow – another area where the Muslim population of 9.4 per cent is above the national average.

When we rang him last week, he told us that “we’ve left the Kashmir issue to the Labour party and that can’t happen anymore.”

“The fact that a much more aggressive India has abandoned any attempt to be a secular government, combined with basic issues of human rights, means that Kashmir is now an issue for us,” he said.

He stressed how he felt when talking to his constituents who can’t talk to family and friends back in Kashmir.

He told us that his organisation was there to encourage more people from the Kashmiri diaspora into his party’s fold, rather than take a stance on the politics of the region. “We are making it clear that the Conservative Party is for them too.”

But talking about his own views on the UK Government’s foreign policy, he outlined three main objectives. “We need to shine a spotlight on human rights issues in Kashmir.

“We also need to raise the issue of self-determination. Britain doesn’t just say that sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is a matter between Britain and Argentina. We say it’s an international matter. The same should apply in Kashmir.”

“Thirdly, we need to take account of the views of people in Kashmir itself. Not to do so, is morally indefensible.”

These sentiments are bold. They put Bristow and some of those in his band of Tory MPs at odds with government policy. It’s no coincidence that they’ve already come under fierce attack from Bob Blackman, the MP for Harrow East.

Mr Blackman was awarded the Padma Shri award (perhaps the nearest thing India has to a British knighthood) from the Indian government earlier this year, and is a strong supporter of the Modi government.

He is on record defending Modi’s decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir and has previously encouraged voters to support Modi’s BJP party in elections in India.

Until now, Blackman has been far more reflective of Tory opinion than Bristow and his colleagues in the Kashmir group.

There are many reasons for this, including the need of post-Brexit Britain to maintain trading links with Modi’s India, to which must be added Islamophobic opinions among Tory members, with one recent poll finding nearly half of Conservative members believe Islam to be “a threat to the British way of life.”

But when I put these statistics to Paul Bristow, he pointed to the example of Peterborough, which has two Muslim Conservative councillors and a Muslim Conservative mayor. He is battling to build relations with British Muslims. Lets see how he gets on.

What could give the Government a sense of purpose – and chances to achieve? Making Gove Deputy Prime Minister.

18 Sep

Boris Johnson has a majority of 80, the Conservatives are still above 40 per cent in the polls, there is no leadership challenge pending, and there are still over four years to go until the next election.

But the Tory press this week is behaving as though none of that applies.  It hasn’t given up on the possibility of the Prime Minister winning in 2024.  However, it seems close to abandoning hope of him achieving anything substantial before then.

The joint catalyst of this development has been the Government’s adventures with international law, to which many voters are indifferent.  And its handling of the Coronavirus, to which they are not.  The common theme is that the country is all at sea, and that the captain has no sense of direction – or grip.

It may be that the media, some Tory MPs and Party donors are getting everything out of proportion.  The hysterical anti-Johnson hyperbole from the Remainer residue certainly muddies the waters.  To give an example almost at random, one prominent pro-Remain journalist once implied that Johnson’s Covid illness was faked.

None the less, ConservativeHome thinks that the critics have a point – and then some – for two solid reasons.  The first is all to do with the unique circumstances of last December’s election.  Johnson was elected to Get Brexit Done and spend a lot of money: at least, that’s what the hostage-free Tory manifesto suggested.

He has delivered Brexit as most voters see it (even if there is no trade deal), and his spending plans have been absorbed by the Coronavirus crisis, along with nearly everything else.  “Levelling up” is on hold.  So is the economy.  The manifesto had no programme for public service reform in any event.

If it had, the virus would make its delivery all but impossible. Covid means all hands to the pump, unless the Prime Minister is prepared to let the disease which put him in intensive care let rip.  That isn’t going to happen.  Global Britain may not either, at least if one means by it a coherent approach to China, Russia and radical Islamism.

The second reason is all bound up with Johnson himself.  We endorsed him last summer as “not the Prime Minister we deserve, but the Prime Minister we need right now”.  By which we meant that his character, gifts and personality are best shaped for campaigning rather than government.

Just before he made up his mind to declare for Brexit, he told friends that he was “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley”.  That captures the essence of how he works when trying to deliver many ends, as one must in office, rather than single one, as is the case in elections.

A shopping trolley can’t move on its own.  It needs someone to direct it.  That person is thought by those demented Remainers to be Dominic Cummings.  Certainly, parts of the Government’s programme are Cummings-driven: upending the civil service, challenging judicial power, overhauling procurement, “investing in science”.

But Cummings’ hands are only some of those on the trolley.  His old Parliamentary supporters, Simon Case, colleagues from his London mayoralty days, Carrie Symonds: all these and others push and pull at Johnson, who has no enduring ideology of his own to steer by, and can be as indecisive in private as he is bombastic in public.

We don’t mean to suggest that the Prime Minister has no beliefs.  He does, and his experience in City Hall has shaped them.  He wants to build more houses (good for him), invest in infrastructure, spend money on policing – and he has liberal instincts on immigration, as Government policy confirms.

But these are not so much convictions as impulses.  This is not the man to throw himself into the culture wars, as his response to the Black Lives Matter eruption confirms.  Rather, he is Lord Stanley, pitching in to the Bosworths of the conflict only when they’ve already been decided.  So it was with Churchill’s statue and the Proms.

The big point is that his response to Covid-19 is in deep trouble.  Success would see test and track taking the strain this winter.  Instead, regional lockdowns have already kicked in, and it’s only September.  The Government wants life at work to be as close to the old normal as possible, but life at home to be a new normal – under compulsion.

Hence marshalls, curfews and the rule of six.  Last spring, voters swung behind the Prime Minister as they’ve sometimes swung behind others when wars break out.  Now, there is war-weariness.  The winter is shaping up ominously and the Parliamentary Party is skittish.

At this stage in editorials, the usual course is to reiterate advice.  Appoint better Cabinet Ministers – not just people who voted for you.  Find an Andrew Mackay-type figure to take the backbench temperature.  Get a single, strong Party Chairman.

We add: forget trying to carry out, in current cirumstances, a spending review that looks more than a year ahead.  Concentrate on sorting testing, keeping schools open – and saving the Union; concede that turning the civil service upside-down will have to wait; prepare for a pro-EU Biden presidency.  But there is a fundamental problem.

Johnson just isn’t the man to exercise self-discipline outside an election campaign.  This is integral to what makes him so interesting: As Sasha Swire puts it, he has a “greatness of soul…and best of all a wonderful comic vision of the human condition. He is not like any politician I have ever encountered before, and I have met many.”

He will carry on boostering about moonshots, world-beating systems and (James Forsyth writes this morning) hydrogen.  It’s a form of manic defence.  A David Cameron would think tactically; a Margaret Thatcher strategically.  But the Prime Minister doesn’t think so much as intuit.  And will carry on doing so because that’s how he is.

Perhaps memory can reach where advice can’t.  Johnson has worked at his best when he lurches noisily forwards and someone follows quietly behind, carrying a dustpan and brush: Simon Milton in London (then Eddie Lister), Stuart Reid at the Spectator.  To put it more neutrally, he performs and someone else administers.

The safe, secure choice to do this now would be Oliver Dowden.  The one that would cause a sensation, explode a mass of leadership speculation and conspiracy theory, and drag up horrible memories of commitment and betrayal would be the psycho-dramatic appointment of Michael Gove.

The media’s field day could last for the rest of this Parliament.  But in the meantime, Gove would get on with what he does better than any Minister other than perhaps Rishi Sunak: strategic thinking – and messaging – government with a purpose, and zeal for reform.

The planned New Year reshuffle would be the right time for the change, though we admit that it almost certainly won’t happen.  All the same, the Government’s shaping up to be in its own bleak midwinter by then.  Sure, the next election is there to be won.  And never underestimate Johnson’s strange bond with a big slice of the British people.

But getting the state’s creaking machinery up to responding to Covid, let alone achieving much before 2024, depends on him doing what all of us find it hardest to do: changing what he does; almost who he is.

What the new Anglo-Japanese trade deal tells us about ‘Global Britain’

12 Sep

Amidst all the challenging stories dogging the Government at the moment, yesterday’s newspapers offered a rare bright spot: the conclusion of an ‘historic’ trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Japan.

With talks with the European Union having almost completely broken down, and negotiations with the United States also having stalled, it offers a much-needed sense of momentum to the idea of a free-trading ‘global Britain’ so cherished by Brexiteers.

It also undercuts the impression that Boris Johnson’s brinkmanship over the UK Internal Market Bill has left it internationally isolated, although the timing reportedly owes more to the imminent departure of Abe Shinzō, the Japanese premier.

Yet the detail also highlights the challenges of the new approach. The headline figure of a £15.2 billion boost to Anglo-Japanese trade sounds impressive, but is a relative drop in the ocean in GDP terms. Likewise on agriculture, a sensitive topic which is one of the key stumbling blocks to a deal with the US, Britain has only managed to secure access to any unused capacity in a tariff deal negotiated by the EU.

On the other hand, it does illustrate that it is possible for the Government to effectively ‘roll over’ trading relationships built whilst the UK was inside the EU – and indeed, deepen them in areas of particular interest to Britain, such as digital and financial services. Liz Truss, the Trade Secretary, has also indicated that she hopes the deal will be a stepping stone towards British membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which the Financial Times describes as “a sprawling multinational trade pact” – and thus further out of the EU’s orbit.

What seems unlikely is that deals like this will have much cut-through with the electorate, who have never been greatly interested in the minutiae of trade or regulatory policy. As the Vote Leave team recognised during the referendum, ‘global Britain’ is not a narrative which greatly excites the voters, especially not those voters who have been won over to the Conservatives since 2016.

If the Government wants to convert trade policy into an electoral dividend, then, it will need to package them up as part of a broader, more appealing, and more digestible narrative with more concrete benefits, as advocates of CANZUK are doing.

The deal with Tokyo is undoubtedly good news. But the detail of the agreement, and the way it has been completely swallowed by the news cycle, spotlights both the challenges involved in operating an independent trade policy and the limited political rewards of doing so.

Image credit: LSE Digital Library.

What the new Anglo-Japanese trade deal tells us about ‘Global Britain’

12 Sep

Amidst all the challenging stories dogging the Government at the moment, yesterday’s newspapers offered a rare bright spot: the conclusion of an ‘historic’ trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Japan.

With talks with the European Union having almost completely broken down, and negotiations with the United States also having stalled, it offers a much-needed sense of momentum to the idea of a free-trading ‘global Britain’ so cherished by Brexiteers.

It also undercuts the impression that Boris Johnson’s brinkmanship over the UK Internal Market Bill has left it internationally isolated, although the timing reportedly owes more to the imminent departure of Abe Shinzō, the Japanese premier.

Yet the detail also highlights the challenges of the new approach. The headline figure of a £15.2 billion boost to Anglo-Japanese trade sounds impressive, but is a relative drop in the ocean in GDP terms. Likewise on agriculture, a sensitive topic which is one of the key stumbling blocks to a deal with the US, Britain has only managed to secure access to any unused capacity in a tariff deal negotiated by the EU.

On the other hand, it does illustrate that it is possible for the Government to effectively ‘roll over’ trading relationships built whilst the UK was inside the EU – and indeed, deepen them in areas of particular interest to Britain, such as digital and financial services. Liz Truss, the Trade Secretary, has also indicated that she hopes the deal will be a stepping stone towards British membership of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – which the Financial Times describes as “a sprawling multinational trade pact” – and thus further out of the EU’s orbit.

What seems unlikely is that deals like this will have much cut-through with the electorate, who have never been greatly interested in the minutiae of trade or regulatory policy. As the Vote Leave team recognised during the referendum, ‘global Britain’ is not a narrative which greatly excites the voters, especially not those voters who have been won over to the Conservatives since 2016.

If the Government wants to convert trade policy into an electoral dividend, then, it will need to package them up as part of a broader, more appealing, and more digestible narrative with more concrete benefits, as advocates of CANZUK are doing.

The deal with Tokyo is undoubtedly good news. But the detail of the agreement, and the way it has been completely swallowed by the news cycle, spotlights both the challenges involved in operating an independent trade policy and the limited political rewards of doing so.

Image credit: LSE Digital Library.

Iain Dale: Good luck to Robbie Gibb’s prospective challenger to the BBC and Sky. And to News UK if it has a go, too.

4 Sep

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

On Wednesday, the German government declared that the Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, had indeed be poisoned, and that the nerve agent used was Novichok.

Predictably the Kremlin denied any involvement whatsoever, thereby taking the West for fools yet again. Novichok appears to have become the poison of choice for the Russian Government’s Federal Security Service (FSB). For an apparently developed country to sanction the use of chemical weapons against its own citizens is both unconscionable, and tells us a lot about the ruthlessness of Valdimir Putin.

It is inconceivable that he doesn’t know it is going on, whether or not he gives the direct orders or not. After Salisbury, he could have read the riot act to his former colleagues in the FSB and said: ‘Never again’. He chose not to – and the poisoning of his main political opponent is the result.

So what should the response be? When he was Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson did brilliantly to persuade 20 countries to expel more than 130 Russian diplomats. That was fine, but it didn’t go far enough. All western countries should now impose the most severe Magnitsky sanctions possible against all senior members of the FSB and every single member of the Russian cabinet, including Putin himself.

Germany will be key here. Angela Merkel has enjoyed a better relationship with Putin than most western leaders, and Russia and Germany enjoy economic ties which Britain and Russia do not have.

For Germany to take serious measures against the Kremlin may be the jolt that Putin needs if he is to re-evaluate his ‘poison policy’. Or he may respond by threatening to switch off the supply of gas to Western Europe. If you appease people like Putin, they just laugh at you. The time for serious action is now.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’ve enjoyed reading Philip Collins in The Times over the last twelve years. Sadly he’s been let go as a weekly columnist, but by most standards he’s had a good innings.

He fired off a parting shot email which was particularly ill-judged and ungracious. Rather than thank The Times for giving him the space to air his views over twelve years, he complained that he’d been let go in a thirty second conversation.

Galling, yes, but it’s always better to leave with your head held high, even if you think your benefactors have made a huge mistake. Bitterness is never a good look.

All columnists, and radio presenters for that matter, know that as each hour passes, their day of departure looms ever nearer. I’ve been on LBC for eleven years now. I hope when my time comes I conduct myself with due decorum, but also  hope that day is a long way off!

– – – – – – – – – –

It is rumoured that two more news channels may appear on our screens before too long. There’s little doubt that there is growing dissatisfaction with the news coverage provided by Sky and the BBC, but there is a big question-mark over whether the news viewing market is big enough to sustain new entrants. And would a news channel with a centre-right slant be able to garner enough of an audience to make it commercially viable?

GB News (let’s hope that if it gets on air it has a snappier name) is led by Robbie Gibb and an ex-head of Sky Australia. News UK is also rumoured to be planning something similar.

Both are at pains to say their vision does not involve becoming a UK version of Fox News. Would conventional advertisers be flocking to advertise on a right of centre TV channel? They advertise in right of centre newspapers, so there is no reason why not, I suppose, but I suspect they will take some convincing.

Whoever the financial backers of these channels may be will need to have some very deep pockets indeed to get them through the initial few years. Running costs will go into the tens of millions of pounds. I wish both enterprises luck, because competition is always good, and new entrants to a market can help shake the existing channels out of their rank complacency.

I remember that when Stephan Shakespeare, Tim Montgomerie, Donal Blaney and I started 18 Doughty Street TV in 2006 how difficult it was to build an audience. In those days few people watched video, live or not, on their laptops. Smartphones hadn’t then been invented. In retrospect, we were ten years ahead of our time. Such a channel would do really well nowadays, I suspect.

If you back CANZUK, you should also support the D10 – an alliance of democracies

28 Aug

If by CANZUK you mean new trade deals, four of the five eyes, and stronger cultural links with some of what Churchill called “the English-speaking peoples”, we’re all for it.

If by CANZUK you mean free movement, a NATO-type defence union and a single Joe Chamberlain-style economic bloc, our advice is to lie down until the feeling goes away.

The subject is topical because Erin O’Toole, the new Conservative Party leader in Canada, sees CANZUK as “a top priority”.  His version is somewhere between the two sketched above.

The first would sit comfortably with another idea whose time has come – the D10, about which James Rogers of the Henry Jackson Society wrote recently on this site, and which Boris Johnson’s Downing Street is rather keen on.  Expect it to feature in the Defence and Security Review.

Where NATO is a hard power alliance, the orientation of which is still to confront Russia by military means if necessary, the D10 would be a soft power one, aimed at countering the influence of China.

“You might say that, we couldn’t comment,” a Government insider told ConHome, adding that “the idea is being picked up by a broad listenership, which includes Canada and Australia.”

“There’s some interest in Bidenland.  And for the medium-sized powers, there’s security in numbers.  The idea’s in the ether, but it could materialise.”

The UK chairs the G7 next year, so the stage is set for the idea to get a push then, after the Defence and Security Review sets the scene.

So: who would be in the D10?  CANZUK enthusiasts should note that three of the four potential members would be in it: Canada, Australia and the UK.  New Zealand leans towards a different foreign policy orientation.

Then turn to the G7, of which the UK and Canada are already members.  Add Australia and South Korea to the United States, Japan, and the three EU country members – France, Germany and Italy – and you have a total of nine.

Finally, there’s India.  That’s ten major democracies with different military orientations and economies – but shared democratic values.

One could seek to draw other countries in – such as Spain, for example.  But what is being looked for here is a group big enough to work, but not so big as to be unwieldy.

During the Cold War, America and western Europe tended to speak with one voice.  Post-war progress, wealth and stability was built on this alliance – expressed in its security dimension by NATO.

That organisation is still adjusting to the collapse of communism – with two members, Greece and Turkey, at loggerheads, and others, such as Turkey and Hungary, moving closer to Russia.

Which imperils NATO’s integrity – but even were it functioning seamlessly, the organisation isn’t shaped to deal with China, not only because of where it sits but because of what it does.

A soft power D10 wouldn’t be a rival to a military alliance.  It would differ in purpose to the G20, which contains not just China but Russia too, plus the entire EU.  It would take in most of CANZUK, as noted.

At a time when China is expanding its interests through the Belt and Road Initiative, the D10 would offer a counterweight, in terms of investment, capacity-building, aid and the promotion of democratic values.

It could also begin to speak with a common voice at the United Nations, and there would be an obvious crossover with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the UK is keen to join, as our columnist Stephen Booth has reported.

Downsides?  The EU countries are not on the same page as America on China – or, to strike a very topical note, on Iran, over which Britain is sticking with the EU position rather than moving towards the American one, having voted recently the former at the UN.

Doubtless part of the diplomatic thinking is the calcuation that Donald Trump may not be in place after November – which may be wrong.

Elsewhere, Narendra Modi is taking India in a different direction from its secular heritage. And it is hard to see how this alliance could conjure up a quick alternative provider to Huawei.

But if you believe that the great post-war alliance between America and western Europe was of value, you will smile on a new means of creating a modern version for a different purpose.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Tom Tugendhat: It’s time for the Government to stand with its allies – and stand up to Iran

26 Aug

Tom Tugendhat is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for Tonbridge and Malling.

Israel is losing its reputation in the Middle East. For decades, it played the role of chief villain with nations around the region blaming Mossad for every mishap. Today, Jerusalem is a partner with the United Arab Emirates – just the latest of many to build ties to Jerusalem and seek cooperation.

Jordan and Egypt are about to be joined by some or all of Bahrain, Oman, Sudan. Even Saudi Arabia, while insisting that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative remains the basis of its policy, is making sympathetic noises. Arab popular opinion may still find Israel a difficult issue. But the higher-level dynamics are changing, as new interest-based alignments emerge blinking into the light of day.

Tehran is seeing to that. Over the past decade or so, Britain’s friends and partners have focussed on one thing – the threat of violent Iranian subversion and perhaps direct attack.

From Syria to Yemen, Arab states know well the danger that Iran poses. Militias paid for by Tehran and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps have turned tension into conflict, and fuelled wars that have cost hundreds of thousands of lives and destroyed whole countries.

That makes the UK’s recent UN vote even more surprising. On 14 August we, along with France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia, abstained on a motion to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Only the United States and the Dominican Republic voted in favour.

As Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, put it: “the result of the vote in [the UNSC] on arms embargo against Iran shows—once more—the US’ isolation.” It’s hard to argue that’s in Britain’s interest. Even less so, given how many of our regional allies are counting on us to hold the line.

Should the embargo end, the next step is clear: Iran will be looking to buy Russian or Chinese air defence weapons to put around the nuclear plants that it has long believed is essential to the regime’s survival. The International Atomic Energy Agency has already confirmed that Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium stockpile to more than 300 kilograms, enriched uranium to a purity greater than 3.67 percent, stored excess heavy water, tested advanced centrifuges, refused inspections into suspected nuclear sites and may be concealing more undeclared nuclear materials and activities.

It will seek to accelerate the development of its ballistic missile programme, particularly in the area of guidance systems. It will become even more aggressive in cyberspace. And it will redouble its political and material support for the Shia militias that are corruptly colonising Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Again, it’s hard to see how that helps Britain.

Over the past four years, the approach of the Trump Administration can hardly be described as diplomatic but, despite its tone, its respose to the clear violations of the Iranian regime is based on the actions it’s seeing in Tehran. The UK, by contrast, seems to have an Iran policy more focussed on remaining close to European allies (with a disdain for the current US administration) than on the actions of the dictatorship in Tehran.

That decision to abstain puts us even further apart from our most important security partner and regional allies – undermining a global approach, and pushing us firmly back towards the EU we have just left. Worse, it risks raising questions about the veto that none of us would like to have posed.

Now that the US has lost the vote on renewing the embargo, the White House will, no doubt, use the so-called snapback mechanism to reimpose sanctions as agreed in a 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution (SCR). This poses a problem for us.

The snapback mechanism included in SCR 2231 allows participants in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the Iran deal’s full name) to reimpose sanctions unilaterally. In 2018, the US withdrew from the deal, so some – Russia and China, no doubt – will claim that Washington can no longer trigger the snapback. UK, France, and others will have to decide: is the deal worth it?

Blocking or even abstaining on the likely vote against the US’s determination to trigger a snapback would undermine the alliance and weaken the UN. The temporary relief of allowing the Iran deal to continue, with the UK standing alongside European allies against the Trump White House, would be overwhelmed in coming years, since no US administration could accept being bound into a UN system without a veto.

“Iran continues to conduct ballistic missile activity that is inconsistent with SCR 2231.” Karen Pierce, our Ambassador to the United States, said in June 2019. That hasn’t changed. But nor has the UK’s posture. We continue to try to perform the diplomatic splits – denouncing Iran, but at the same time remaining committed to a JCPOA that has been consistently violated by Tehran and effectively abandoned by the US.

Iran continues to hold British hostages, most notably Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, and spread terror in the region. In Iraq, its militia allies are assassinating young activists – female and male – with impunity.  They are rocketing Baghdad’s Green Zone and bombing military convoys, with the aim of humiliating the new Prime Minister, Mustafa al Kadhimi, and showing him he cannot depend on the US – or any other Western power – for his survival.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah clearly thinks it will not be held to account for the assassination of Rafiq al Hariri in 2005 or for the massive recent explosion at Beirut’s port.

In Syria, Iran has saved the murderous Bashar al Assad and will want rewarding. Some of the militias it has deployed there recently held a public event in Mashhad to advertise their successes, and announce that Jerusalem was their next target.

And now Tehran is offering Beijing privileged access to its energy resources and perhaps also a trading and naval base on the Indian Ocean. None of this is in our interests. But instead of siding with our allies and giving ourselves more leverage over a dictatorship that respects nothing but strength, we are remaining wedded to a deal that has become irrelevant to the two principal signatories.

The time has come for us to change policy. Even under the Obama administration, it is far from certain the JCPOA would have endured as US strategic interests – no matter who is in the White House – lie with regional allies, not the Iranian autocrats, and it seems unlikely that a new Democratic administration would attempt to breathe life into the deal.

The UK should now be joining the US in calling out the real threat to peace in the Middle East and standing with our friends in the region—from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. We need to defend the principles of international cooperation, not see them used as a fig leaf for human rights violations, war and nuclear proliferation.

If we’re going to convince allies around the world our place at the UN Security Council works for them and defends our common interest in a world based on agreements, our policy on Iran has got to change. Abstaining shows we’re not prepared to stand up for our friends and won’t stand with our allies – and that weakens everyone, but most of all us.

Benedict Rogers: It’s time for Raab to bring Magnitsky sanctions to bear on those oppressing Hong Kong

25 Aug

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, co-founder and Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission.

It is not often that one sees Iain Duncan Smith, John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett, Andrew Adonis, Alistair Carmichael and the Scottish Nationalists on the same page.

Bringing the former Conservative Party leader and Brexiteer together with the former Labour Shadow Chancellor, the former Green Party leader, the former Labour minister and leading Remainer, the Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson, and two SNP MPs is an achievement – and as far as I can see it is Carrie Lam’s, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, only achievement.

Last week these politicians, together with David Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, Helena Kennedy, a leading human rights barrister and Labour peer, and 12 other Parliamentarians, wrote to the Foreign Secretary in support of calls for the imposition of targeted Magnitsky sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese government officials responsible for grave human rights violations and a flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Their letter follows a personal appeal to Dominic Raab by Nathan Law, the highest-profile pro-democracy activist to escape Hong Kong since the imposition of the new draconian national security law on 1 July.

In 2016, Law was elected Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, at the age of 23, but was disqualified the following year for quoting Mahatma Gandhi when he took his oath of office. He was then sentenced to eight months in jail for his role in leading the 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests. In his letter, Law writes:

As a party to the legally binding Sino British Joint Declaration, the United Kingdom holds a unique position in advocating for Hong Kong. I earnestly hope that the UK government would take the important step to sanction Ms Carrie Lam and other officials involved, so to send a clear signal –– not just to Beijing, but also to other countries in the free world that we ought to stand firm against an oppressive regime which disrespects both their citizens’ rights and the international norms.  Please safeguard our shared belief in freedom and human rights as well as the pursuit of democracy in Hong Kong. Please stand with Hong Kong.”

Since the imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong by Beijing, Britain has responded robustly, by announcing a generous package to allow Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas (BNO) passports to come to the UK on a “pathway to citizenship”, and by suspending our extradition agreement with Hong Kong. These are very welcome steps, but there is much more than needs to be done.

Although the new law has only been in place for less than two months, we are already seeing its dramatic impact on Hong Kong. The arrest of several prominent activists, particularly the entrepreneur and media proprieter Jimmy Lai, the police raid on his pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, and the arrest of Law’s colleague Agnes Chow and ITN reporter Wilson Li; the issuing of arrest warrants for six Hong Kong activists outside Hong Kong, including Law; and the banning of slogans, the withdrawal of pro-democracy books from libraries and the censorship of school textbooks; all indicate the end of Hong Kong’s autonomy under “one country, two systems” and the destruction of the city’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is right for the British Government to respond to events proportionately, and with a staggered approach. There is no point in firing all our ammunition in one go, and then having nothing left to deploy. But the events in Hong Kong in recent weeks require a response that goes beyond rhetoric. That’s why it is time for targeted sanctions.

The United States has already imposed its Magnitsky sanctions on Lam and other officials, but it is vital that the international community act in as united and co-ordinated a way as possible. Hong Kong must not become – or even be perceived to be – a pawn in a US-China fight, but rather as the front line in the fight for freedom and the international rules-based order.

For that reason, the rest of the free world has a duty to act, and as the co-signatory of the Joint Declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s continued autonomy, it is right that Britain should lead the way.

Our Magnitsky sanctions legislation is now in place, and so far 49 individuals from Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Burma are on the list. Raab is one of the architects of this legislation – dating back to his days on the backbenches when he championed the idea – and he is said to regard it as a legacy issue. So he has every interest in ensuring that this sanctions regime is meaningful.

To do that, those responsible for dismantling freedoms in Hong Kong, once one of Asia’s most open cities, and the violation of an international treaty – as well as those perpetrating some of the 21st Century’s most egregious atrocity crimes against the Uyghurs – must be held to account. If Lam cannot be sanctioned for presiding over a year of shocking police brutality and repression, who can?

So the 19 Parliamentarians who signed this letter are right to declare: “We stand with Nathan in this appeal.” I do too, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary will act soon.