One of our key tasks as Conservatives is to define our country’s role as we leave the European Union.
On Monday, we made huge strides in that direction when the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab announced a new Magnitsky sanctions regime, one of the most robust of its kind in the world.
Already, we are seeing what the UK can do when it isn’t beholden to the EU’s sclerotic foreign policy decision making structures. Unlike our allies on the continent, we have stood up to China’s unacceptable violations of international law in Hong Kong, highlighted the plight of the Rohingya in Burma, spoken more clearly on the Uyghur issue, and now, thanks to Conservative leadership, are introducing a robust, world-leading sanctions regime to target corrupt officials and human rights abusers.
We are a worldwide human rights leader, and it is something the British people expect of its Parliamentarians and Government.
One of the United Kingdom’s most recognisable attributes on the world stage is our commitment to the rule of law and the promulgation of universal human rights. We are a worldwide human rights leader, and it is something the British people expect of its Parliamentarians and Government. With this week’s Magnitsky announcement, we are rightly doubling down on our commitment to the global human rights regime.
The world is full of wicked people, and the UK has since the Second World War played a key role in holding perpetrators to account. Whether it is being a world leader in humanitarian development, helping broker peace in the Balkans, intervening successfully in Sierra Leone or, more recently, leading the world in cracking down on sex trafficking and modern slavery and rescuing the Yazidis from Sinjar, the UK has long been a foremost advocate for human dignity.
However, that advocacy has not been accompanied by as strong a set of financial and economic measures as would sometimes be necessary.
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian lawyer who tried to prevent his client, Bill Browder, from having his company illegally appropriated by the Russian state. He was tortured and left to die in a Russian prison. Very rarely are the masks of authoritarian regimes fully ripped off, but his murder laid bare the grotesque face of Russia’s security state for all the world to see. Today is a day to recognise how the actions of one man can genuinely change the world, and we should thank Bill Browder for his relentless campaign to secure justice for Sergei; his actions will save lives for generations to come.
Two years ago, the UK adopted a Magnitsky amendment to the 2018 Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, which allows the Government to crackdown on those who perpetrate human rights abuses and makes sure that corrupt foreign officials cannot engage in rampant tax evasion through UK entities. This was an important step to target those who mistakenly believed that the UK can be their playground. However, we can do more, and that is why we should welcome the Foreign Secretary’s introduction of a post-Brexit, expanded and strengthened, sanctions regime. One that seizes on our new independence and can set a global standard for forensic and targeted sanctions. Our new sanctions regime will not just include those who perpetrate these crimes, but those who promote, support, conceal evidence of, or provide financial services which aid and abet human rights abuses. Unlike many sanction regimes, the UK’s rules will also cover non-state actors – entities through which many authoritarian states perpetrate their worst crimes. Sanctions will be subject to legal tests, to ensure that our commitment is not subject to political interference.
But we must not rest on our laurels. We must use these sanctions in one of the worst examples of human rights abuses in our time: the terrible human rights abuses being committed by the Chinese Communist Party against the Uyghur people, policies that amount to a modern genocide: forced sterilisation of women, forced displacement, children ripped from their families, forced labour, torture, rape and more. I will continue to advocate for sanctions against officials of the Chinese Communist Party who perpetrate and profit from these egregious and industrialised efforts to eradicate an ethnic minority.
We must also consider further measures to ensure that corruption is included on sanctionable offences. In a rare instance of agreement, both the Foreign Secretary and his Shadow agreed this week that corruption and human rights abuses go hand in hand. I want to see us sanction those who profit from human rights abuses, as well as those who perpetrate them.
Finally, the UK must build on these world-leading measures to consider how the whole of Government can more effectively stand up for human rights. Serious consideration needs to be given to how we build on recent initiatives, and to consider how dedicated policy teams could be created within the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. We can do more to prevent war crimes and acts of genocide, and we now have the opportunity to radically rethink how we do foreign policy in this country: it is not a time for timidity.
I welcome the announcement of this world-leading new sanctions regime. It represents the best of Britain and the best of our politics and values. But if we are going to seize on our international role, this must be the beginning, not the end, so Britain can make a new and enhanced contribution to our global community, and stand up for those all around the world who face the most vile abuses at the hands of their Governments and non-state actors.