Dr Liam Fox MP:
I completely support my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in proscribing Wagner Group. As she said, they are instrumental in Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine. They are almost certainly complicit in war crimes of the sort that we have seen described throughout this horrific conflict, and it is right that we support our allies in Ukraine, in particular President Zelensky.
My purpose in rising in this debate is to question the logic of proscribing Wagner Group today and the Government’s sense of priorities in that we are not doing so alongside, if not linked to, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran. I do so by reference to the tests set out for the proscription of Wagner Group in the Government’s explanatory notes to this motion. The first test is “the nature and scale of the organisation’s activities”.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has set out how Wagner meet that test, but the IRGC is answerable directly to the supreme leader in Iran, so it has a direct link with the Iranian state’s malignant activities, including its support of the war in Ukraine. The IRGC is directly involved in the brutal oppression of the Iranian people, the suppression of human rights, the disappearances, the torture and the executions—so why not proscribe it?
The second test set out by the Government for proscribing an organisation is “the specific threat that it poses to the UK”.
I hope my right hon. and learned Friend may say a little bit more, as far as she is able, about that specific threat, but it is clear in the case of the IRGC that MI5 has acknowledged the real threat from Iran’s “aggressive intelligence services” towards the United Kingdom. The IRGC clearly passes that test.
The third test for an organisation is “the specific threat that it poses to British nationals overseas”.
Given the scale of the activities that Wagner Group are involved in, they would clearly pass that test. However, the IRGC is an indispensable part of the chain of hostage taking that has a direct impact on the safety of UK nationals and particularly UK dual nationals abroad, including in Iran. Why are we not seeing that linkage here?
The fourth test is “the extent of the organisation’s presence in the UK”.
I am not quite clear about the extent of Wagner’s presence in the UK—I can understand its impact on the UK, but I do not quite grasp its presence in the UK. However, I am very clear about Iran’s presence here and the IRGC’s role in using its propaganda base to incite extremism in the UK.
The fifth test is “the need to support international partners in the fight against terrorism.”
My right hon. and learned Friend has quite rightly set out a number of countries that are our partners in the international community and should be getting our support in the fight against Wagner Group and their interests in their own countries. However, we know that the IRGC is the export bureau for terrorism in the region, to its neighbours and beyond. We have had so many examples, from Hezbollah onwards.
Then we come to the linkage. The IRGC in Iran has huge control over the means of production in that country. It is inconceivable that it was not intricately involved in the production of the drones that Iran sent to Russia for the oppression of the Ukrainian people. If war crimes have been carried out by Russia, the means of carrying out those crimes has at least part of its origin in Tehran with the IRGC. It is essential that we tackle that as quickly as we can.
No one will disagree that Wagner is an evil, dangerous and malign grouping, but I would argue that they are no worse than the IRGC, which is not being proscribed by the Government. Indeed, the Prime Minister, in seeking the leadership of the Conservative party, was very supportive of the concept of proscribing the IRGC, so why this inactivity? I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have to have discussions and there will be a strong input from the Foreign Office in this. She has been a tough and robust Home Secretary, something that many of us greatly appreciate, but we are well behind the curve compared with the United States when it comes to the IRGC, and our failure to tackle what is a malign influence in the world today is damaging Britain’s reputation in the world beyond.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consult urgently with the rest of Government to see whether we should not be coming back to this Chamber as quickly as possible and adding the IRGC to the groups that this country will rightly proscribe because of their impact on this country, our citizens, the safety of countries beyond, our allies and international law itself.