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Volume 629: debated on Monday 16 October 2017

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the future of the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. The Government take note of President Trump’s decision not to recertify the joint comprehensive plan of action and are concerned by the implications. The Government are strongly committed to the deal. The JCPOA contributes to the United Kingdom’s wider non-proliferation objectives. The International Atomic Energy Agency continues to report Iran’s compliance with its nuclear commitments. We share serious concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilising activity in the region.

Thank you for granting this urgent question, Mr Speaker. While I am, as always, grateful for the Minister’s presence and his opening remarks, I must say that it is a matter of deep regret that the Foreign Secretary did not consider this worthy of his attention today. For a man who so desperately wants to run the country, he shows surprisingly little interest in running his own Department.

The nuclear deal with Iran stands out as one of the most successful diplomatic achievements of the last decade, and let us be clear: the deal is working. What could today have been another North Korea-type crisis in the heart of the middle east has instead been one problem that the region does not have to worry about. For Donald Trump to jeopardise that deal—for him to move the goalposts by linking it to important but utterly extraneous issues around Iran’s wider activities in the region; for him to play these games—is reckless, mindless and downright dangerous. It makes a reality of Hillary Clinton’s prophecy that putting Donald Trump in the White House will create a real and present danger to world peace.

Let us make it clear that when Donald Trump talks about the deal needing to be fixed, that is utterly disingenuous, when the only evidence that it is in any way broken is a figment of his fevered brain. Yet sadly this behaviour is what we have come to expect of this President. Some of us in the House have been sounding these warnings from day one of his presidency, whether over climate change, human rights or the Iran nuclear deal. When we raised those fears in the House, what did the Foreign Secretary say? He said that I was being “too pessimistic”. He told us that his strategy of hugging the President close—inviting him to meet the Queen, holding his hand when needs be—was the way to wield influence. Specifically on the Iran deal, the Foreign Secretary stood at the Dispatch Box seven months ago and said that I had simply got it wrong on the Iran deal. He said:

“We were told that the…plan of action on Iran, was going to be junked”,


“it is now pretty clear that America supports it.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2017; Vol. 624, c. 116.]

Well, one of us got it wrong. One of us was being naive and complacent, and one of us is seven months too late in waking up to this issue.

It really is high time that we had a Government capable of standing up to Donald Trump, not just meekly following his lead. Perhaps in his response the Minister can make a start by making clear two specific differences between this country’s policies and Donald Trump’s. Will he make it clear today that the Government will reject any attempt to make the deal subject to new conditions that have nothing to do with Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons? Will he also make it clear that we reject an approach whereby international agreements can be made by one President and torn up by the next for purely political reasons? It puts us in the invidious position that we will never ever feel secure doing a deal with America again. Will he share that concern today and reassure our allies that this is one Trump lead that the British Government will never follow?

I am answering a question about the future of the joint comprehensive plan of action with Iran, and I think I will focus more on Iran and the British Government’s position than anything else, because that is what I am required to do.

I thank the right hon. Lady in the first place for making it clear that she agrees with the Government’s assessment of the importance of the joint comprehensive plan of action and our belief that the deal is working. I can tell the House that this was a hard-won deal. It went through many years of negotiation. It was not designed as an all-embracing deal to cover everything that concerned the west and Iran, and both Iran and those who have signed the deal have made that clear. There are a number of issues on all sides, certainly involving ballistic missiles and also Iran’s activities in the region. As Foreign Minister Zarif made clear, however, at a meeting of the UN at which the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was present—as was I, representing the Government, and other signatories—if the deal is to be renegotiated, there is an awful lot on both sides to be renegotiated that was never contemplated by any party when we signed the deal. The deal was designed to do a specific job, which was to curtail Iran’s nuclear programme and its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and so far it has done just that. That is why the UK strongly supports it.

Clearly we disagree with President Trump’s assessment. We do not fail to understand the United States’ concerns about Iran’s activities in the region, and we have made that clear, but we also believe that those matters need to be dealt with outside the agreement, which is why the agreement is so important. To have gone through all that and got something that works, in a world where it is quite difficult to get agreements that work, and then to put it to one side would not help the wider situation. We will continue to work our counsel with the United States and other parties to the agreement, and we will continue to work with the Iranian Government on matters of mutual interest, including those things about which we have concerns, to see if we can use the agreement as a possible springboard to future confidence, knowing that these things do not come quickly, but knowing also that signatures on deals matter. That is what the UK will adhere to.

Given the President’s astonishingly bovine decision—even by his standards—to decertify the joint comprehensive plan of action, against the best military and intelligence advice available to him, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that although we acknowledge, as he did, the very considerable difficulties in dealing with Iran outside this agreement, it is through diplomacy that we have the greatest possible chance to achieve change and progress? Will he therefore assure the House further that there is no question of Her Majesty’s Government supporting the President’s view?

I can assure my right hon. Friend, whose expertise and long experience in these matters speak volumes, that what I said earlier about our disagreement with the President’s assessment of the current state of the deal holds true. The implementation of the Iran nuclear deal marked a major step forward in preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon’s capability. It immediately extended Iran’s break-out time, meaning it would take it 12 months to get enough fissile material for a weapon, and has offered an opportunity for Iranians to make positive decisions about their country’s future and its role in the region. We also recognise that the deal must be policed properly for it to remain a good deal. I say again that elements of Iran’s conduct in the region cause concern in many states—we know that—but, as he said, these matters must be pursued through the bilateral relationship we are working on, together with other states that continue to engage with Iran seriously about its responsibilities in the region.

The deal shows what can be achieved through diplomacy and dialogue, and I pay tribute to those in Europe and elsewhere, including those in the Minister’s Department, who worked so hard to make it a reality. Has the Minister been clear about his disagreement with the Trump Administration, and can he reveal to the House what his discussions have been? Also, to what extent will he continue to work with our European partners—our natural partners, not the enemy—on this issue?

I can assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that discussions with allies go on all the time, and obviously, in the run-up to consideration of the United States’ position on Iran, there was consultation not only with the UK but with all the parties to the agreement, and those discussions will continue. The agreement remains in place, of course; the President has put elements of it to Congress for certification, but the US did not take the opportunity to scrap it completely. That gives us the opportunity to continue moving forward. Conversations about the agreement, which was signed by many parties, not just the US and Iran, will continue between allies.

May I associate myself absolutely with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), who made an excellent point? Has the Minister spoken to some of the other signatories—I am thinking particularly of France and Germany—to hear their view of the matter, and has he spoken to the Iranian Government to assure them, should they feel that a response should be made that would breach the agreement, that it would have consequences, and it would be very much in their interests to respect the agreement despite the actions of the White House?

At the recent United Nations General Assembly, the High Representative of the European Union called a meeting of all the signatories who were available. As I said a moment ago, I represented the Foreign Secretary, who was attending a Cabinet meeting in the UK. There was a discussion about our respective positions. This was a known meeting, not a private meeting, so I can disclose the situation. It was an opportunity for all the parties—knowing that the United States was considering its position very carefully—to say what they thought about the deal, and all of them except the United States professed that they believed it was working and that they intended to continue it.

This was the first meeting between Secretary of State Tillerson and Foreign Minister Zarif, and it gave the two of them an opportunity to have an exchange about their respective positions. I have to say that it was one of the most enlightening conversations that I listened to. I thought that both of them were perfectly honest in relation to their concerns about their positions. The Secretary of State explained, as did the President in his statement, some of the background to the United States’ concerns, which Foreign Minister Zarif met.

The conclusion is that this was an agreement based not on trust but on distrust. That is why it was so painstaking, that is why it is so important, and that is why it needs to be adhered to. Making an agreement in these circumstances means that we must be very sure about commitments for the future, or about pulling away from them, if we are to build on that with the rest of the mistrust in the region.

As the right hon. Gentleman can already tell, the Government’s strong support for the deal is widely shared on both sides of the House. Does he agree, however, that among the consequences of President Trump’s announcement are, first, that it will undermine confidence in international agreements of this sort—and, as we have already heard, this agreement was painfully and painstakingly negotiated by many people including Baroness Ashton—and, secondly, that it will enable the less than moderate forces in Iran to say to the more moderate forces, “We told you that you could not trust the United States of America”, which is not in anyone’s interests?

The right hon. Gentleman speaks with great experience. Of course there is a risk that an agreement signed by one Administration and not followed through by another in its full terms will lead to exactly the consequences that he has described. In defence of its position, the United States has made it clear that the President was elected having said what he had said about the agreement, which had not been ratified by Congress, and he stands by that.

I think that we should focus less on what was said last week by one party to the agreement than on what is being said by all the other parties to it: that is, we recognise its importance, and we recognise the need to adhere to an agreement if it is working and is certified on all sides. It is the United Kingdom’s view, and that of all the other signatories bar the United States, that the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified that Iran is living up to its obligations under the deal, and that that is the basis on which we should work. Certainly, if we want to encourage others to sign deals that may not benefit all elements of a regime, adhering to a deal is extremely important.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to recognise that there are different voices to be listened to and different voices that speak in Tehran, and it is essential for us to be cognisant of that before we take any particular action.

When Sir Peter Westmacott was British ambassador in Washington, he held 47 one-to-one meetings with United States senators to persuade the United States Congress not to damage the agreement. Will the Minister assure the House that British diplomats are redoubling their efforts in Washington to ensure that Congress continues not to damage the agreement, and will he consider recalling to the colours some of our talented and expert people who may have thought that they were enjoying a well-deserved retirement?

On the latter part of my hon. Friend’s question, one of the most enjoyable parts of my role is to have access not only to current ambassadors but to those I have known and who have served the country in exemplary fashion, as has Peter Westmacott, and to be able to draw on their experience. I can therefore assure my hon. Friend that that experience is not lost.

Congress now has the opportunity to expedite legislation on Iran, and we understand it will discuss the issue in the coming weeks. We will continue to work with all our partners in the nuclear deal, including the US, to ensure that all parties implement it in full, and I can assure the House that our diplomatic service in Washington will indeed be working with all elements of the House, as we have done throughout all the terms of the deal.

The Minister has described how difficult and complex it was to negotiate this deal, which was such a significant step forward, and is, of course, now at risk. May I urge him to be a little bolder and state clearly on the record whether he thinks this intervention from the US President will make it easier or more difficult to reach successful multilateral diplomatic agreements in future?

That is a good question. Honesty in these matters is very important, and if we know anything about President Trump and his Administration it is that he did make certain things clear before he was elected, which he has followed through on, and I think that the President and the United States would defend their actions in that way. There is of course a significant risk: agreements do go on, Government to Government, and ensuring that an agreement is adhered to is fundamental to international negotiations. The fact is that the agreement stays in place, and the other signatories are clear about what it means, and have been very clear with the Iranian Government that they believe they are upholding their obligations and that they must continue to do so. Again, let there be no doubt that Iran has occasionally pushed at the boundaries of this agreement, but those matters have been resolved. Provided that all the signatories remain in compliance, it is the view of the United Kingdom and others beyond the United States that the agreement should stay in place. I would hope that that would continue, on further reflection, to be the view of all signatories to the agreement, but that will depend on all parties adhering to the letter of the agreement.

Will the Government dust off the files marked “Cold war containment” and try to get the message across to our American friends and allies that a policy of containment while repressive societies evolve is the best way to deal with countries like Iran?

Again, I thank my right hon. Friend, who has long experience of these matters. If there is a colleague in the House associated with the cold war, it might, indeed, be my right hon. Friend, for his considerable knowledge, and, if I may say so, the occasional activity associated with it, which are a subject of his memoirs. His point is right. The world went through an awful time in the cold war, as some of us will remember and others will not. The world teetered on the brink of nuclear disaster, and was only pulled back by sensible decisions and the bravery of people in very difficult circumstances. We feel we have moved forward by trying to get the agreements we need. We know where the threats are in other parts of the world where an agreement has not been possible: there is no JCPOA in the far east, and we worry about the consequences of that.

I repeat what I said earlier about the United Kingdom’s position: the fact that this hard-won deal dealt with an aspect of the relationship between Iran and the rest of the world in a manner that could be verified and enabled us to move on, notwithstanding the fact that there were other issues, was really important. If we are not to see a return to cold war, we should look for the opportunity to make that engagement, and be honest in our relationships with each other on things we cannot agree on, but always try to find a way through without isolation and cutting contacts, as that only requires a climb-down at some stage in the future to find a way to re-engage.

Does this episode not illustrate the folly of breaking from our natural friends and allies in Europe and throwing in our lot with an unpredictable and irrational American President? That would be the outcome of the extreme hard Brexit that the Minister’s boss and the other hard Brexiteers on his Benches are pursuing.

I might be the wrong Minister to answer all the details of that question. I simply want to make it clear that I get no indication from my friends in the EU who have been connected with this agreement that any distinction is made between our relationship before the referendum and our relationship now or in the future in relation to these matters. We are firm colleagues and we will remain firm colleagues. This matter overrides those considerations, and I am absolutely sure that those strong friendships and the way in which we see the world will remain the same.

I welcome the Government’s position. Does the Minister realise that what is important is the regime’s direction of travel, and that the moderates have the upper hand in Iran, in large part because of this deal? Will the Government therefore do what they can to encourage Congress not to make the wrong decision during the 60-day window? Otherwise, the implications for the rules-based international system will be obvious, not least to the North Koreans.

My hon. Friend is an experienced member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and he well understands some of the dynamics relating to Iran. Iran is a complex political society with different representatives and different voices, as I said earlier. It is clear that there are elements in Iran who saw the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—JCPOA—as an opportunity to open possibilities for the country on the wider stage, and who recognised that for those possibilities to be maximised, other behaviour had to be recognised and curtailed. There may be others in Iran who saw the agreement in a different light. The United Kingdom’s position is to believe that the signing of the agreement brought an opportunity to continue to work with those who wanted to see Iran return to the world stage. It will not be able to do that if it continues with disruptive activity in the regions, but adhering to this agreement has been very important. The Foreign Secretary has spoken to Foreign Minister Zarif twice in the past week—once before the President’s announcement and once after it—and I am sure that he made that clear to those elements who wish to see the JCPOA leading to something good for the future of the region.

Does the Minister agree that President Trump is a proliferator, that he is encouraging the undermining of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that by his action he will make it almost impossible to get any agreement on North Korea?

In all fairness, it is not for me to deal with the intentions of the President in the manner that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I simply reiterate that the United Kingdom disagrees with the rationale behind the President’s decision. We understand the importance of the non-proliferation treaty, which has been one of the great successes among international agreements in the past 30 or 40 years, and also therefore the importance of signatures on agreements, where those agreements can be verified. We will continue to work with all our partners, including the United States, to try to ensure that our point of view is one that they recognise and support.

I should like to join the universal welcome for the Government’s continuing support for the nuclear deal, which is working. Does the Minister agree that creating economic interdependence with Iran should be a general policy objective to deliver more leverage over future behaviour on non-nuclear-related matters?

The relationship between states is often complex, and it is doubly so in relation to Iran. We want to see a bilateral relationship with Iran that is based on our values. Trade is clearly important but it cannot be carried on at the expense of those values. Also, the term “leverage” should be considered carefully. It should always be to the mutual advantage of any states that their relationships with one another are based on peace, security, compatibility of values and the opportunity to go over differences and resolve them without conflict. That is what we will continue to do. There are issues between ourselves and Iran, such as the consular matters that people well understand, and we will continue to press them. We hope that the relationship that we are trying to forge will be based on our values and the needs of the rest of the region, which will require Iran to recognise that some of its activities could and should take a different course.

The Minister’s statement is welcome and moves us forward, but he will recall that part of the logic behind the decision to engage with Iran on the basis of distrust, as he says, was the potential for a nuclear-armed Iran to lead to a nuclear arms race in the middle east. What steps will our Government take to say to our friends in the middle east that it is not in their interest to see the agreement destabilised?

Most of our friends and partners in the middle east recognise that the non-proliferation treaty has prevented the acquisition of nuclear weapons, which would have been easy. Many states possess the wealth to equip themselves with nuclear weapons, but they have not done so because they accepted the terms of the treaty and other international agreements. The importance of continuing with the JCPOA is about ensuring that the signatories remain convinced that parties and powers that sign such agreements will abide by them. I have heard no suggestion that the President’s decision marks a change in that attitude among neighbouring powers, who realise how destabilising a change in Iran’s position on the non-proliferation treaty would be. I have also received no suggestion that Iran’s seeking nuclear weapons is likely to be an outcome of what we heard last week.

If the agreement will not in itself control Iran’s financing of terrorist groups, will the Minister say a word about how it is acting as a springboard? That would give people more confidence in the deal.

My hon. Friend goes into other aspects of Iran’s activity in the region over which a veil cannot and should not be drawn. I will again make the point that the JCPOA was not meant in any way to draw a line under or cover up Iran’s activities. It is not the case that if Iran stuck to this element of the deal, everything else would no longer need to be considered. Other measures are in place to deal with such things. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is covered by EU sanctions, for example, and sanctions are available against those who finance terrorist activity, which would include some in Iran. EU sanctions are already in place in relation to Iranian individuals who have been suspected of human rights abuses, for example. Other leverage is available to deal with our concerns about Iran, and sanctions remain available to us, but we want to use the agreement as an opportunity to deal with the things on which Iran could and should do more. We will continue to do that by developing a bilateral relationship with Iran.

Britain had just restarted diplomatic relations with Iran and a new British ambassador was on his way to Tehran when George W. Bush foolishly included Iran in the “axis of evil” speech, making it much more difficult for us to progress our relations with Iran. Is it not now all the more important to make it absolutely clear that we are a country in our own right and will not necessarily follow the American line, and that we will want to make strong alliances with our allies in Europe in the future, even if we are not a member of the EU?

I agree with all the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments, and the Foreign Secretary met Vice-President Salehi last week. I reiterate that the importance of the agreement is that it dealt with one aspect of the relationship, but there are other aspects. I do not gloss over our other issues with Iran, which will not be in our bilateral discussions, but at least they can be spoken about and at least there is a pathway forward. There is a chance of new relationships if each party to the agreement accepts their obligations, particularly in relation to any potential activities in other states.

While not ignoring human rights abuses and the abuse of minorities, including Christians—the Minister either has acknowledged or would acknowledge such abuses—does he agree it is important for the international community to continue with dialogue to reach a diplomatic solution, and that this nuclear deal makes the region a safer place?

I agree with that assessment. As I mentioned earlier, we have only to look at the situation in another part of the world where no such deal exists and where there is deep concern about the movement of a power towards nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons testing. The deal with Iran covers off that issue in an important state in a region that badly needs stability and needs all states to recognise their responsibilities to each other. Closing doors does not help. It is important that states are firm, clear and honest with each other. Not covering things up but always looking for an opportunity to seek change and development: that should be the product of conversations between states that want to achieve something.

Is it not true that one of the dominant voices in Iran is the Revolutionary Guard, the people who blocked the release of Nazanin Ratcliffe? However much we might worry about President Trump’s actions, would we not be mad to rely on the word and behaviour of the Revolutionary Guard for nuclear security, or anything else?

It is precisely because we do not need to rely on anyone’s word—we can rely on a deal verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and its work to verify the deal’s commitments—that we have been able to make progress on reducing the number of centrifuges, reducing the amount of stored uranium, reducing heavy water capacity and reducing Iran’s ability to create more. All those things are verifiable. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I have mentioned the important distinction that this agreement is not based on each side trusting the word of the other; it is because of the very fact that words cannot always be trusted that there has to be something concrete and visible, and verified by independent parties, on which to proceed. That is what the deal is about. There are words that cannot be relied on in any international context, which is why agreements, and sticking to agreements, are so important.

Although no one disputes the unsettling nature of the Iranian regime, this deal, which was the culmination of 13 years of negotiation, has stopped Iran building a nuclear weapon. Does the Minister agree that Trump’s aggressive stance undermines our collective influence and responsibility in managing global security?

Since the deal was signed Iran has given up two thirds of its centrifuges and 95% of its uranium stockpile. Our priority is to work with the deal and make it deliver for our shared security interests. It is helpful if all the parties to the agreement move at the same speed and in the same way. The United States has declared why it does not currently agree with the deal, and we disagree, and have disagreed publicly, with its rationale. We will continue to engage with Iran for the very reasons that my hon. Friend states—for global security and certainty on agreements between states.

I knew at some stage a question would be asked that is beyond my pay grade. I have always taken the view that there are many signatories to this agreement. The United States is considering the possibility of new legislation, but it remains a party to the deal, so the deal stays in place. We do not want to contemplate a situation in which one party unilaterally withdraws, because of the implications for other parties. We will do all in our power to ensure that all parties to the agreement continue to adhere to its provisions, that the deal stays in place and that it forms the basis of further discussions about the matters of disagreement between us so that we can build a new consensus on what is needed in the region.

The deal has made the world a safer place, but it does not cover all aspects, as my right hon. Friend has said. Some constituents of mine are worried that we are giving too much to Iran and ignoring the sponsorship of terrorism that goes on elsewhere. The deal is vital and only it can be the way a peaceful solution can be moved forward, but will he confirm that Britain still stands with other countries that may be affected by the terrorism sponsored by Iran, such as that of Hezbollah and Hamas?

I thank my hon. Friend for his observations and remarks, as he gives me another opportunity to make things clear. If this deal had tried to cover all the aspects of concern between the signatories and Iran, it would never have been signed—it just would not have happened. The whole point of the deal was to find an area between two groups of people who were concerned about each other on which they could agree and on which there could be external verification to mean that that particular issue was dealt with. That was the purpose of the deal. At no stage was it envisaged that everything else of concern would suddenly disappear. As I indicated earlier, we remain concerned about Iran’s ballistic missile testing and its activity throughout the region, but conversations go on between ourselves and Iran—and other states—on that and on the financing of terror. We can deal with those other issues in other ways, and sanctions will be applied where this is appropriate—where behaviour has been uncovered which breaks international rules.

The Minister has said that the approach should be “firm, clear and honest”. Will he give his reassurance to the House that that is how he and Ministers will treat the ongoing discussions about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?

Yes, I repeat what I said in Westminster Hall last week: we remain concerned for all our dual nationals currently detained in Iran. Conversations about them are going on and we believe that on humanitarian grounds these cases need to be looked at seriously by the authorities in Iran. We have made our views very clear, very regularly and at the highest levels.

I, too, welcome the Minister’s stance on the Iran deal. He has already made reference to it, but can he reiterate his confidence in the ongoing monitoring programme?

I can, yes. It is our belief that the IAEA has the access it needs to give the parties to the deal—beyond perhaps the United States—the confidence that the deal is being adhered to. That is our view.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) has just asked the question I was going to ask, but it seems a shame to waste all this standing up and sitting back down again, so may I ask the Minister to expand on whether the UK Government and others are actively preparing for a scenario in which the US formally secedes from this arrangement and yet the basic framework is kept in place?

The hon. Gentleman illustrates that no question is ever wasted here, and that was a good question. As always, the Government have to prepare for all eventualities. It is our belief that the JCPOA should be adhered to and all parties should stick with it, but of course should there be any change in that, we are always prepared. At the moment, we believe the agreement should stay in place and we have the agreement of many parties on all sides for that view.

Given wider concerns about the Iranian regime’s appalling human rights record, particularly on LGBT— lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—issues and with the persecution of Christians, we can understand why people have some scepticism about accepting its word. Will the Minister reassure me as to just how thorough the monitoring of this deal is, so that everyone can have confidence that we are getting exactly what it intended to deliver?

As I said, we know enough about the International Atomic Energy Agency’s activity to be confident that the deal is being verified. There are elements of the deal that are confidential between the IAEA and Iran—we do not need to go into that—but we are confident about the verification and the matters that have already delivered certain very visible changes with respect to Iran’s nuclear stockpile.

We welcome the tripartite statement on this issue over the weekend from the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France, as well as the Minister’s comments today. Does not that statement indicate that the British Government’s foreign policy voice is magnified when they work with other EU countries and that it is a mistake to use defence and security co-operation as a bargaining chip in the EU divorce negotiations?

I am absolutely certain that the UK’s relationship with its partners on the continent, within or without our membership of the EU, will always have foreign defence and security matters firmly at its heart.

The Minister is right to say that even those who support the deal have grave misgivings about Iran’s malign regional attitude. The Iranians themselves boast of dominating four Arab capitals, and they are actively and often violently seeking to undermine important regional allies of this country. What practical steps are being taken, with our allies, to address and counter that threat?

We remain concerned by the destabilising activities of revolutionary guards in the region—particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen—and the IRGC in its entirety remains subject to EU sanctions. Sanctions are only one tool available to the international community. The UK believes that there are other means of challenging Iran’s disruptive regional activity that may be more effective, but we are open to considering other matters where appropriate, working in concert with EU partners.

Is my right hon. Friend’s understanding the same as that of the EU High Representative: that no one country has the authority to veto the deal?

I think it is, in that we were all signatories to the deal. No one wants to see one party come out of it unilaterally, but if one did and others thought the same, that would undermine the deal. We very much want to keep the provisions of the JCPOA going. It provides a degree of certainty about Iran’s nuclear programme, and it does not close off other opportunities to deal with issues.

I must say one further thing: at the meeting in New York, Foreign Minister Zarif made it clear that his state had issues, too. It is not for me to comment on the quality of those issues or anything else, but he indicated that if the agreement was thrown up in the air and there was a renegotiation, Iran wanted to bring many other issues into the conversation. My view was that we should keep the JCPOA and make sure we are open to talking about those different issues; I did not get the impression from Secretary of State Tillerson that he was averse to continuing his conversations with Foreign Minister Zarif. That would give us the opportunity to make progress with the many different voices in Tehran and to move forward with those who foresee a different future for Iran if there are changes in its relationships to its neighbours in the region, to the benefit of all and the security of the rest of the world.

RAF Coningsby in my constituency is the home of the Typhoon jets that keep the nation’s skies safe. I am pleased that some constituents of mine have visited the House today. Will my right hon. Friend please assure the people who play such a vital role in the nation’s security that every diplomatic effort is being made so that, please God, they never have to face the consequences of diplomacy failing?

I can absolutely confirm what my hon. Friend said, and I am pleased to endorse that. If the House will allow me one indulgence, my father was medical officer at Coningsby many years ago, and he recently paid it a visit: 70 years on, he was able to climb into a Lancaster bomber. The way he and his friends were treated that day made it a wonderful experience for him, as someone who had played his part in the RAF many years ago. We pay tribute to those who are working day and night for our security.

The special and historic relationship we have with the United States puts us in a very good position, if not the best, among all the signatories to the agreement, to make clear to the Administration things that I know my right hon. Friend will find the right diplomatic language for. The old dictum is that we campaign in poetry but govern in prose. Being the leader of the free world requires more skills than being a gameshow host or a contestant on “The X Factor”.

My hon. Friend is slightly tempting me to use a type of language and to go down a route that might be more appropriate from the Back Benches than at the Dispatch Box. He makes his point well, but we all understand that the President recognises the responsibility that he bears on behalf of many, and that he will continue to listen to partners in relation to defence and security. We will continue to look at all opportunities to do that, particularly in relation to this agreement.

Is it the availability of intelligence that has prompted the Government of Israel to support the President’s assessment?

If it was, we do not comment on intelligence matters anyway. None the less, I will say that there are many different voices in Israel as well on this particular agreement. There is no alternative agreement being put forward. I am not aware of an alternative JCPOA being put forward by any powers, and I remain of the view, as do the UK Government, that this agreement does the job that it is designed to do. It does not close our eyes to other things that need to be dealt with, and Israel has genuine concerns about Iranian activity in the region. Those concerns stand whether or not the agreement goes forward, but they are easier to deal with if we keep this agreement in place.

In contrast to some Opposition Members, I believe in the special relationship with the US. It is a mutually beneficial and enduring relationship that goes way beyond that between one US President and one UK Prime Minister. Can the Minister assure me that the Government are pulling all the available levers in that relationship at every level to persuade our American friends to retain this deal?

My hon. Friend is right in recognising that the United Kingdom’s relationship with the United States is very deep and that, at many levels, contacts are going on all the time right through Government. He can be absolutely assured that those relationships, led by my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe and the Americas, ensure that our voice is heard in the United States at the highest levels.

May I caution my right hon. Friend about seeing this issue purely through the lens of Donald Trump? There are many good friends of the United Kingdom on Capitol Hill, such as Senator John McCain and Congressman Ryan, who have serious and legitimate concerns about this deal, as indeed do friends in Israel and the Gulf states. May I also ask him to consider the comments of Senator McCain over the weekend, which, I think, suggested that there would be more support on Capitol Hill for continuing the deal were the international community to take forward separate and significant activity against Iran’s state sponsorship of terror?

My hon. Friend makes a serious point. I can assure him that the United Kingdom is not considering this matter purely through the eyes of the President, although his statement is of course definitive as a Government position. As I said when I began my remarks, I was able to comment on a discussion that I was part of between Secretary of State Tillerson and Foreign Minister Zarif, in which they gave their view of why they were at odds with each other.

The Secretary of State enunciated very well the sort of concerns that are held by a number of Members of the House of Congress and other people in America and in other states. There is no doubt that the concerns expressed by the President are held by others. However, the point is how to use those doubts and whether those doubts were sufficient to put at risk the JCPOA. It is the United Kingdom’s view that they were not and that those other issues, important as they are, should be handled in a different way, but that the JCPOA should stay in place. We will endeavour to work with our allies in relation to that point of view.

Much as many might wish it to, what the JCPOA proscribes is very tight and does not cover things such as ballistic missiles or human rights. Will the Minister outline why such tight proscription is in fact in our interest and Iran’s? The wider we range on issues such as this, the harder it will be to strike any deal.

I said earlier that Foreign Minister Zarif has made it clear to the other parties of the agreement that, had the agreement sought to go wider after the years of fairly torturous negotiations on the nucleophile, it simply would not have been signed. If it had not been signed, Iran would have been continuing to proceed on a path that we all felt might lead to the possibility of a nuclear weapon in the region, with all those implications. It was better to have that agreement signed on those terms and to continue work on the other things than it would have been simply to try to find such an all-embracing deal that it would never have been signed by Iran.

Let me spell out to the House the product of the deal. Iran has shipped more than 12 tonnes of enriched uranium to Russia to eliminate its stock of 20% enriched uranium; removed more than 13,000 centrifuges and associated infrastructure; removed the core of the Arak heavy water reactor; removed all excess heavy water to the Arak reactor to prevent the production of weapons-grade plutonium; allowed greater IAEA access and the use of online monitoring; provisionally implemented the IAEA additional protocol; and agreed a procurement channel for authorised exports of nuclear-rated goods and services to Iran. All that was achieved by the deal. We would hold that—notwithstanding the extraneous matters, which are important and need to be dealt with —the product of the deal, as I have enunciated, has been good for the region, the world and the United Kingdom.

I recognise, understand and respect the cross-party consensus reflected in the vast majority of questions in favour of this agreement, but may I just put the alternative point of view to the Minister? This is not a permanent fix to Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. Limits on that programme begin to wind down in just eight years’ time. In the meantime, Iran is looking to construct an airfield and a naval base in Syria, and is developing plans to send a division of troops to Syria. In 10 years’ time, we could face the prospect, with a 12-month breakout period, of Iran’s having a bigger military footprint in the region, and still being able to develop a nuclear weapon in no time at all. How does the Minister respond to that?

If the deal comes to the end with no further agreement about provisions for the future, Iran would still be subject to the nuclear proliferation treaty as it was before. Those provisions will stay in place. Having agreed this treaty, there is no reason to believe that it will not be possible to continue its terms and, clearly, the parties will want to achieve that.

My hon. Friend quite rightly mentions the other activities of Iran that cause concern in the region, and those concerns are very real. We all know enough about this place and politics to know that if everybody agrees on something, there is often a problem. It is right that we hear alternative voices and it is important to listen to things that might be contrary to what we wish if we are to ensure that what we wish for is what happens in reality. That is what the United Kingdom is very clear-sighted on—its relations with its partners, with the United States and with Iran.