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.

James Gurd: So often, views of the Middle East are out of date. As this historic deal between Israel and the UEA shows.

19 Aug

James Gurd is Executive Director of Conservative Friends of Israel.

The Covid-19 news cycle was interrupted briefly last week with a historic development from the Middle East: the announcement of intentions for full diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The agreement includes the key tenets of an unremarkable bilateral relationship – from the opening of embassies to passenger flights – but this was no ordinary announcement.

It represents the most significant development between Israel and its Arab neighbours since Jordan’s peace agreement with Israel in 1994 and, if fulfilled, it will become only the third Arab nation to establish full diplomatic relations with the Jewish State. While the agreements with Egypt and Jordan have largely brought a practical but crucial peace, this new relationship will be founded upon friendship and expanding mutual interests.

Unthinkable to many, the momentous announcement has in fact been in the offing for some time.

The rules of the ‘old Middle East’ have been changing for over a decade. The great Arab nations have seen an increasing number of high-profile Israeli delegations travelling through. Discreet at first, these visits have become increasingly regular and overt, with Benjamin Netanyahu officially visiting Oman in 2018, and Saudi news publishing an unprecedented 2017 interview with Israel’s IDF Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot, in which he publicly offered to share intelligence on Iran.

In a sign of the changing times, extraordinary reports emerged a couple of years ago of tensions between two Gulf states (reportedly Bahrain and Oman) over who would first host a visit from Netanyahu.

Rightly, much of the focus behind last week’s announcements has centred upon the strategic alignment between Israel and the UAE (as well as its Gulf neighbours) over the threat posed by Iran. Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions have long cast a shadow over the region, and Sunni Arab leaders now recognise that Iran’s nuclear programme and destabilisation of multiple countries via its terrorist proxies represent an existential threat to more than just Jerusalem.

Its reported firing of ballistic missiles (inexplicably omitted from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal) at a critical Saudi Arabian oil facility last year showed beyond doubt how far Tehran is prepared to go. Israel represents a crucial and dependable ally against Iran, especially at a time of shifting U.S. policy interests.

The resource-rich economies of the Middle East will also have their eyes on their economic futures. With finite supplies of fossil fuels, changing consumer habits likely accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic and increased environmentalism, the leaders of these countries will be acutely aware of the need to diversify away from natural resource revenues. Israel’s remarkable success as a tech powerhouse offers a valuable blueprint.

The move towards peace can also be understood against the tumult of the ‘Arab Spring’. Throughout, many regional leaders desperately resorted to that old clarion call: ‘Your hardship is a consequence of the evil Zionist entity’.

But if that period taught us anything it was that the Arab people sought basic freedoms and personal securities, thereby conclusively putting to bed the misguided notion that regional stability hinged solely upon resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. While this outdated world view continues to shape the thinking of some Western capitals, in reality the Israeli/Palestinian issue has been low on the agenda for Arab leaders and officials meeting with their Israeli counterparts in recent years.

The Israeli media is now awash with speculation over the possibility of further regional states moving towards formal ties with Israel. While Bahrain and Oman are presented as the prime candidates, Sudan is a possibility, and formal ties with Saudi Arabia are no longer unimaginable.

Crucially, a decisive movement away from historic Arab-Israeli enmity offers an opportunity to revive the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While the Palestinian Authority was predictably quick to denounce last week’s announcement as a betrayal, many Arab capitals are understood to be growing weary of the intransigence that has seen off multiple viable peace deals. This perhaps explains their cautious welcoming of Donald Trump’s attempt to rethink the Oslo paradigm – held increasingly as a failed formula by politicians and commentators of all stripes.

While Arab leaders may not agree with every aspect of Trump’s proposal, by seriously engaging with the peace process and by actively encouraging the Palestinians to return to talks, the UAE and other Arab countries may finally help unlock that most elusive peace agreement.

The ramifications of these shifting sands extend far beyond the region. Under consecutive Conservative Governments, the UK has been deepening its own ties with Israel – with record trade, deep security links, and even historic first official visits to the Jewish State by the Duke of Cambridge and Prince of Wales. As Arab states move towards publicly recognising Israel as a valuable regional ally, and given our shared concerns over Iran and Islamist terrorism, the UK should use its historical links to encourage the change and maximise the ample opportunities for new regional trade and security initiatives.

The UAE’s Foreign Minister reflected Saturday that “clearly, 70 years of not communicating with Israel has led us nowhere”. It is a conclusion that will lead others to follow the UAE’s historic decision to move to a future of friendship, not one of hostility.

Iain Dale: Farron’s strange friends here and Hammond’s bloody ones abroad

17 Jul

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

Tim Farron has hit the headlines again this week – if you count a story in The Independent nowadays as ‘hitting the headlines’.

It reported that he has accepted a £75,000 donation from an Evangelical group called Faith in Public. To be accurate, they “made a donation at the start of this year to provide him with a policy adviser two days a week, at an estimated maximum value of £9,100″.

“They donated the services of two policy advisers the previous two years at a total value of £50,319, as well as the services of a public relations company to the value of £15,000.”

Faith in Public supports gay conversion therapy, which is expected to be banned in new legislation shortly. The former Liberal Democrat leader says he does not support such an abhorrent practice, but still feels able to take a wedge from an organisation that does.

I’m surprised this donation hasn’t received more widespread coverage, because you can bet your bottom dollar that, had the MP in question been a Conservative one, there would be merry hell to pay.

Farron is coming under pressure within his party to return the money, but in practice that’s quite difficult, when no actual cash has changed hands and the payments were ‘in kind’.

Much of this money would presumably have gone towards paying researchers to help with the writing of Farron’s memoir, published last year by a Christian publisher.

– – – – – – – – – –

Another politician raking in the cash is the Philip Hammond, who was reported by the Spectator this week to have taken on a lucrative consultancy role advising the Saudi government.

Purely coincidentally, he also intervened in the row over Huawei and China, warning that we should not let human rights abuses get in the way of economic transactions.

Tell that to the Saudi citizens who enjoy few of the freedoms that Hammond takes for granted. Tell that to those who have their hands cut off or are beheaded. Tell that to the 50 per cent of the Saudi population with two X chromosomes who are treated as unequal to those with a Y.

Perhaps he’ll go the whole hog and take a consultancy with Beijing as well. Nothing would surprise me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The big question of the week, apart from how Chris Grayling contrived to lose an election rigged in his favour, is what on earth Michael Gove was thinking of when he went on The Andrew Marr Show last weekend to declare that he was against the mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops?

Two days later, it was announced that this will now indeed be Government policy. Since Gove is in charge of Coronavirus coordination across governmentn you’d have thought that he might have been aware that this was in the offing.

So either he was hung out to dry by Number Ten, or he wanted to burnish his libertarian credentials. The result was that yet again the Government deservedly stood accused of sending out mixed messages. Another needless shambles.

– – – – – – – – – –

A few months ago I decided to leave my bank, Lloyds, after 40 years with them.

The big four banks have become monolithic and totally impersonal. You can never speak to the same person twice, and just getting through their security systems is a task in itself. When you dread picking up the phone to ring your bank, you know that is the time to look at the alternatives.

So I have started the process of opening accounts elsewhere, but if I’m honest, the number of forms you have to fill in is quite daunting, and I’ve put it all in the pending tray.

That changed this week when my card declined in a telephone transaction as I tried to buy some stock of my new book from HarperCollins. I rang the Lloyds credit card hotline, and they said it was a routine check, and that if I tried again in a couple of minutes it would work.

I did, and it didn’t. I phoned them back, and they admitted the person I had originally spoken to had cleared the transaction, but had then cancelled the card! So I’d get a new card in three to five days.

Wow. And no, nothing could be done about it and I’d just have to wait – even though they admitted it was their error.

This was all the incentive I needed to fill in those forms with my intended new bank. If ever I had doubted my decision to leave, this experience removed them.

Goodbye Lloyds. Hello, new dawn. However much these big companies take us for granted, we as the consumer hold the power in our hands.

The only way they will change is if we show them we are not prepared to stand for it any longer. I did the same a few years ago with my energy supplier and switched from EDF to Octopus, and I’ve never looked back. They are a delight to deal with.

– – – – – – – – – –

Over the next couple of weeks, I am spending three hours in the company of the two contenders for the LibDem leadership, Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran.

Last night, I did an hour long interview with Ed, and on Tuesday evening it’s Layla’s turn.

Then on August 2, I’ll be hosting a head to head debate on my LBC Sunday morning show. It’s called Public Service Broadcasting (I think). It’s, you know, the kind of thing the BBC used to do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of the BBC, it was announced this week that another 150 jobs are to go in the News & Current Affairs department.

While Politics Live on BBC2 has been given a reprieve (see last week’s column), it’s losing one episode a week, and it seems we’ve seen the last of Andrew Neil on the BBC, with his eponymous interview show being cancelled.

Shameful. On what planet would they go out of their way to push out their best interviewer?

Iain Dale: Farron’s strange friends here and Hammond’s bloody ones abroad

17 Jul

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

Tim Farron has hit the headlines again this week – if you count a story in The Independent nowadays as ‘hitting the headlines’.

It reported that he has accepted a £75,000 donation from an Evangelical group called Faith in Public. To be accurate, they “made a donation at the start of this year to provide him with a policy adviser two days a week, at an estimated maximum value of £9,100″.

“They donated the services of two policy advisers the previous two years at a total value of £50,319, as well as the services of a public relations company to the value of £15,000.”

Faith in Public supports gay conversion therapy, which is expected to be banned in new legislation shortly. The former Liberal Democrat leader says he does not support such an abhorrent practice, but still feels able to take a wedge from an organisation that does.

I’m surprised this donation hasn’t received more widespread coverage, because you can bet your bottom dollar that, had the MP in question been a Conservative one, there would be merry hell to pay.

Farron is coming under pressure within his party to return the money, but in practice that’s quite difficult, when no actual cash has changed hands and the payments were ‘in kind’.

Much of this money would presumably have gone towards paying researchers to help with the writing of Farron’s memoir, published last year by a Christian publisher.

– – – – – – – – – –

Another politician raking in the cash is the Philip Hammond, who was reported by the Spectator this week to have taken on a lucrative consultancy role advising the Saudi government.

Purely coincidentally, he also intervened in the row over Huawei and China, warning that we should not let human rights abuses get in the way of economic transactions.

Tell that to the Saudi citizens who enjoy few of the freedoms that Hammond takes for granted. Tell that to those who have their hands cut off or are beheaded. Tell that to the 50 per cent of the Saudi population with two X chromosomes who are treated as unequal to those with a Y.

Perhaps he’ll go the whole hog and take a consultancy with Beijing as well. Nothing would surprise me.

– – – – – – – – – –

The big question of the week, apart from how Chris Grayling contrived to lose an election rigged in his favour, is what on earth Michael Gove was thinking of when he went on The Andrew Marr Show last weekend to declare that he was against the mandatory wearing of facemasks in shops?

Two days later, it was announced that this will now indeed be Government policy. Since Gove is in charge of Coronavirus coordination across governmentn you’d have thought that he might have been aware that this was in the offing.

So either he was hung out to dry by Number Ten, or he wanted to burnish his libertarian credentials. The result was that yet again the Government deservedly stood accused of sending out mixed messages. Another needless shambles.

– – – – – – – – – –

A few months ago I decided to leave my bank, Lloyds, after 40 years with them.

The big four banks have become monolithic and totally impersonal. You can never speak to the same person twice, and just getting through their security systems is a task in itself. When you dread picking up the phone to ring your bank, you know that is the time to look at the alternatives.

So I have started the process of opening accounts elsewhere, but if I’m honest, the number of forms you have to fill in is quite daunting, and I’ve put it all in the pending tray.

That changed this week when my card declined in a telephone transaction as I tried to buy some stock of my new book from HarperCollins. I rang the Lloyds credit card hotline, and they said it was a routine check, and that if I tried again in a couple of minutes it would work.

I did, and it didn’t. I phoned them back, and they admitted the person I had originally spoken to had cleared the transaction, but had then cancelled the card! So I’d get a new card in three to five days.

Wow. And no, nothing could be done about it and I’d just have to wait – even though they admitted it was their error.

This was all the incentive I needed to fill in those forms with my intended new bank. If ever I had doubted my decision to leave, this experience removed them.

Goodbye Lloyds. Hello, new dawn. However much these big companies take us for granted, we as the consumer hold the power in our hands.

The only way they will change is if we show them we are not prepared to stand for it any longer. I did the same a few years ago with my energy supplier and switched from EDF to Octopus, and I’ve never looked back. They are a delight to deal with.

– – – – – – – – – –

Over the next couple of weeks, I am spending three hours in the company of the two contenders for the LibDem leadership, Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran.

Last night, I did an hour long interview with Ed, and on Tuesday evening it’s Layla’s turn.

Then on August 2, I’ll be hosting a head to head debate on my LBC Sunday morning show. It’s called Public Service Broadcasting (I think). It’s, you know, the kind of thing the BBC used to do.

– – – – – – – – – –

Talking of the BBC, it was announced this week that another 150 jobs are to go in the News & Current Affairs department.

While Politics Live on BBC2 has been given a reprieve (see last week’s column), it’s losing one episode a week, and it seems we’ve seen the last of Andrew Neil on the BBC, with his eponymous interview show being cancelled.

Shameful. On what planet would they go out of their way to push out their best interviewer?

Chris Whitehouse: Raab delivers on Magnitsky sanctions

7 Jul

Chris Whitehouse leads the team at his public affairs agency, The Whitehouse Consultancy.

Dominic Raab’s publication of the details of his new Magnitsky-style sanctions regime has been long awaited, but was worth that wait. The new scheme is another means of deploying Britain’s soft power around the world – a stick to balance the carrots of diplomacy and overseas aid.

No longer can individuals who benefit from corruption and egregious human rights breaches expect to live comfortably, free from repercussions, avoiding any unpleasant consequences of their actions. That leaving the EU means, for the first time, that the United Kingdom can act alone in bringing forward such sanctions is a further leap forward in our nation stepping up to fulfil its global potential, to play its full role on the world’s stage.

As Bill Browder, the man acknowledged by Raab in his statement as being behind the global campaign for Magnitsky sanctions, following the death in Russian custody of his business colleague, Sergei Magnitsky, told this column: “Although the UK is a relatively small country, it has an outsized role in the world, because this is where everyone from the developed world wants to buy property, keep their families safe and store their money.”

Without this sanctions regime, Browder explains: “In the past, whenever a dictator perpetrated an atrocity, the most the British government and many others did was to issue statements of condemnation, at which the perpetrators simply laughed. This Magnitsky sanctions regime creates real world consequences of which they’re rightly terrified.”

Raab, to be fair, has consistently, since 2012, declared that he was “passionate” about the introduction of a sanctions regime, believing that it would have real impact, particularly when used alongside those of other sympathetic nations.

There were some who feared that Foreign Office officials would water down his plans, this column included, and leave us with a regime that was not fit for purpose and did not strike the necessary fear into the hearts of those targeted by its restrictions on financial assets and freedom of movement. Maybe we should have had more faith, because the scheme now published puts considerable power into the hands of Ministers, provided, of course, due process is followed, to stop kleptocrats “laundering their blood money”, as Raab put it, in the United Kingdom

That we had the first designations, the historic early targets of this tough new regime and the very day it was presented to Parliament is a clear indication of the planning, the preparation and the determination on the part of Raab and his team. Rightly, some (though by no means all) of those complicit in Russia of the violent death in custody of Magnitsky, and of the state-sanctioned theft of assets from Bowder’s Hermitage investment fund are among the first to be hit. Let’s hope that others from that benighted kleptocracy follow in the future.

Rightly do we see targeted some (but again far from all) of those Saudis responsible for the shocking murder of tell-it-like-it-is journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the subsequent beheading, dismemberment and disposal of his body inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

Others announced include against some of those responsible for the worst aspects of the systematic mistreatment of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, and those responsible for the sending to the Gulags of North Korea hundreds of thousands of innocent people in that country.

But now that the regime is published and the criteria for inclusion within it is known, we can hopefully expect a gradual extension of the lists of not only the perpetrators of the atrocities against Magnitsky and Khashoggi, but also the inclusion of others implicated directly in the genocide of millions of Uighurs in China, imprisoned in concentration camps to wipe out their sense of religious and cultural identity. We also need to see movement against the senior Chinese Communist Party officials responsible for the now internationally recognised harvesting of human organs from members of the Falun Gong community, among others.

And closer to home, with the threat to the basic freedoms of speech, thought, association and protest of 350,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders, and the wider people of Hong Kong to whom we owe a particular moral and historic duty, should we not be bringing forward in the immediate future sanctions against that city’s puppet of the Chinese Community Party, as identified in the Commons debate by Iain Duncan Smith, namely its Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and her head of police, the latter of whom is directly, personally and professionally responsible for the sustained campaign of brutal police violence against protestors.

When it comes to eating a large slice of humble pie for suggesting that Raab risked not meeting the Conservative manifesto commitment to introduce a regime that delivered a truly effective Magnitsky sanctions regime, this column could not be more delighted than to have to ask, Oliver Twist-like: please sir, can I have some more!

In introducing the sanctions regime that he has, Raab has made a bold and decisive leap in the right direction. There is further to go, particularly into widening the scope of the regime to include a wider range, in particular, of human rights abuses, and we can only welcome his commitment to make further progress in that regard; but we can be proud as a party of what Raab has already delivered.