(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on what further sanctions he will impose upon the Russian Federation following the arrest, over the weekend, of Alexei Navalny, his wife and hundreds of his supporters in clear and gross breach of the European convention on human rights.
The G7 has condemned the imprisonment of Alexei Navalny, and reminded Mr Putin that he is bound by international obligations to respect human rights. One of those obligations is to the Council of Europe. Tomorrow, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will discuss the credentials of the Russian Federation. Does my hon. Friend agree that a nation that engages in state murder and that imprisons its political opponents and their supporters is in gross breach of the European convention on human rights and has forfeited its right to be a member of an Assembly that is founded on the very principles of democracy?
The UK is appalled by the politically motivated detention of Alexei Navalny on arbitrary charges. As the Foreign Secretary made clear, Mr Navalny is the victim of a despicable crime, and we call for his immediate and unconditional release.
The Foreign Secretary has also condemned the Russian authorities’ unacceptable use of violence against peaceful protesters and journalists last weekend, and we have called on the Russian Government to respect their international commitments and to release those detained during peaceful demonstrations.
The UK has galvanised the international community in condemnation of these deplorable detentions. As G7 president, the UK issued a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement on 26 January, emphasising our deep concern at these developments and calling on Russia to adhere to its national and international obligations.
The UK has led international efforts in response to Mr Navalny’s poisoning in August. We have worked closely with our international partners at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to urge Russia to uphold its obligations under the chemical weapons convention. Last December, the UK led a joint statement in the OPCW, supported by 58 states parties, calling for Russia to be held to account.
We have also taken robust, bilateral action. In October, the UK enforced asset freezes and travel bans on six individuals responsible for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, as well on one Russian organisation. We keep further sanctions designations under constant review. However, it would not be appropriate to comment at this stage on possible future designations, as that could undermine their impact. We carefully consider all options under the relevant sanctions regimes.
The UK has been clear in condemning in the strongest possible terms the chemical weapons attack against Mr Navalny last year. He was the victim of a nerve agent attack, and the UK has called repeatedly for the Russian authorities to investigate and explain the use of a chemical weapon on Russian soil and to declare its Novichok programme to the OPCW.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons against opposition figures further undermines democracy and political plurality in Russia. More broadly, Mr Navalny’s detention is a further demonstration of the concerning deterioration in the human rights situation in Russia. We raise that regularly with the Russian Government, making it clear that Russia must uphold its international human rights responsibilities. I raised the issue myself during my visit to Moscow in November 2020, and our ambassador to Moscow raised Mr Navalny’s case immediately prior to his return to Russia, to underline that the UK was closely monitoring Russia’s actions.
We condemn the detention of thousands of peaceful protestors and journalists on 23 January and the Russian Government’s continued disregard for the fundamental rights of its people to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The UK has also urged Russia to fulfil its commitments under the international covenant on civil and political rights, the European convention on human rights and all the relevant instruments of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and to guarantee those rights, including the right to freedom of expression, to its citizens.
The UK’s policy towards Russia is clear: we want a different relationship, but Russia must stop its destabilising behaviour towards the UK and its partners. Russia’s pattern of aggressive behaviour undermines its claim that it is a responsible international partner upholding the rules-based international system.
I am very grateful for that powerful statement. I am concerned because I spoke with the Russian ambassador, Andrei Kelin, who chose to call me this morning. He made it absolutely plain to me during that call that the Russians regarded Mr Navalny as a prisoner who had broken his bail conditions and therefore would not be released. Under those circumstances, I have to say that I still regard this as a gross breach of the European convention on human rights. I hope that my hon. Friend will do everything in her power to underscore that and make it plain that this conduct is completely unacceptable.
I would like to come back briefly on that point. We have been very clear. The Foreign Secretary has condemned the Russian authorities’ unacceptable use of violence against peaceful protestors. We really have been leading from the front when it comes to taking action against this situation. We are absolutely appalled by the politically motivated detention of Alexei Navalny on arbitrary charges.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) for his urgent question. Labour colleagues and I condemn the shocking but sadly predictable arrest of Mr Navalny, his wife and the many thousands of brave Russians who took to the streets at the weekend to protest at the detention. We welcome the Government’s condemnation of Mr Navalny’s arrest and the condemnation by the new Administration in the United States. We also welcome the statement today from the Minister, and we want to emphasise the brutal nature of the police response last weekend. We understand that there will be similar protestations this weekend.
The House is united in condemnation of the attacks, but we would like to see action on the Russia report, which goes to the heart of the matter. In the end, warm words in the House will not assist Mr Navalny in his tireless campaign against corruption. Only the disruption of the corrupt financial networks and the flow of dirty money into the UK will put pressure on the Russian Government to change course. In 15 months, not a single one of the 21 recommendations in the Russian report has been fully implemented: no action on foreign agents; no action on golden visas; and the London laundromat is still very much open for business. The lack of urgency is truly staggering.
We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this. I have four brief questions for the Minister. First, will the Government commit today to the review and expansion of Magnitsky sanctions to include the corruption heading? Secondly, will they commit to identifying and sanctioning those implicated in the attempted killing of Mr Navalny? Thirdly, will the Government commit to cleaning up the illicit money in UK jurisdictions, including London, identified both by the Russia report and the Panama papers? Finally, by what date can we as parliamentarians expect the Government to implement the 21 recommendations in the Russia report?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for the actions that we have taken in respect of the detention of Alexei Navalny. I set out the clear steps that the UK Government have taken. The Foreign Secretary has been leading from the front in that regard. The Government’s response to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia was published on the same day as its release, on 21 July 2020.
Let me make it absolutely clear that Russia is a top national security priority for the Government. We will introduce new legislation to provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to tackle the evolving threat of hostile activity by foreign states. That Bill will modernise existing offences to deal more effectively with the espionage threat, and create new offences to criminalise other harmful activity conducted by and on behalf of states. We continue to step up our activity, both domestically and internationally, to tackle illicit finance entering our country. The National Crime Agency has increased the number of investigations into corrupt elites, and I hope that the hon. Lady welcomes that. We are also reviewing all tier-1 investor visas granted before 5 April 2015
It is welcome to hear the Minister’s condemnation of the attack on Alexei Navalny, whose crime, it appears, is to survive an assassination attempt by the state that now holds him prisoner.
This is not the first of these incidents. Litvinenko, Skripal and now Navalny are three names that speak of Russia’s brutality towards its own citizens. When will we see a proper list of the ill-gotten gains that President Putin has stolen from the Russian people over the past 20 years? When will we see a breakdown of his hidden wealth through UK jurisdictions or in areas where the UK has influence, so that the Russian people can know how much money has been stolen from them by this gangster elite, and when it will be held in trust, to be returned to them as soon as he is gone?
I think that I have set out very clearly the action that we are taking in response to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny. I have set out very clearly the sanctions that we have put in place against six individuals and one organisation. As for any future sanctions or measures that we may put in place, it would be wrong for me to speculate further at this stage.
I warmly congratulate the right hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) on bringing this important issue forward. I welcome the Minister’s statement as far as it goes. I agree with it and support the measures she has outlined. I do not doubt her sincerity in tackling this matter and I think it is important to put that on the record.
I declare an interest as one of the co-litigants in the case that is taking the UK Government to court in the High Court over the non-implementation of the recommendations of the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report into Russian interference. It really does beggar belief that the UK Government can say they have been leading from the front on this. I really do not recognise that description. It staggers me that so few of the recommendations of that credible and serious report have not been implemented by the Government. I urge the Minister to commit to making a further statement to the House on the implementation of those recommendations.
I also ask the Minister for reassurance. I appreciate she will not indulge in speculation, but she needs to be aware that there is considerable support across the House for further Magnitsky sanctions against individuals. We all support Mr Navalny and the protestors across Russia. They need to be sure that there will be action, not just warm words.
When it comes to election interference, one of the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, the Government concluded that
“it is almost certain that Russian actors sought to interfere in the 2019 General Election through the online amplification of illicitly acquired and leaked”
UK-US trade documents. As he rightly recognises, however, where a criminal investigation is ongoing it would be inappropriate of me to comment.
On the Russia report, I should perhaps just reiterate that we published our response on the same day as its release, 21 July. Russia is a top national security priority for the Government. We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents.
Chemical weapons were used on British soil in Salisbury. Now, it appears they have been used on Russian soil. The Foreign Secretary tweeted on 18 January:
“Rather than persecute Mr Navalny, Russia should explain how a chemical weapon came to be used on Russian soil.”
Has the Minister’s Department received an answer to that? More broadly, what is her assessment of the worrying use of chemical weapons on British soil and abroad?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. We have been very clear that the use of chemical weapons is an unacceptable breach of international norms. Russia absolutely must respond fully to the OPCW demand for a transparent investigation and, crucially, explain how a chemical weapon was used against a Russian citizen on Russian soil.
Chelsea football club has been in the news a lot this week, though largely not for this issue. However, Alexei Navalny and his team released a list of names, drawn up by Navalny just days before his return and arrest, which included Chelsea FC’s owner Roman Abramovich and Everton FC’s Alisher Usmanov among those whom they believe should be sanctioned. Both individuals were described as
“key enablers…with significant ties and assets in the West.”
Is the Minister taking those allegations seriously? Will she provide an assurance that anyone, no matter their wealth or position, would be considered for Magnitsky sanctions?
As I have made clear in relation to Alexei Navalny, we enforced asset freezes and travel bans against six individuals and an entity involved with the poisoning and attempted murder of Mr Navalny on 15 October 2020. We did that under the EU’s chemical weapons sanctions regime. As the hon. Lady will recognise, try as she might to press me to speculate on further listings, alas I am not going to do that as it would be inappropriate.
It is appalling that Alexei Navalny, the victim of a despicable crime, has been detained by the Russian authorities. His politically motivated arrest provokes further concerns about Russia’s respect for the rule of law and human rights. Will the Minister join me in calling for his immediate release?
We have been absolutely clear—the Foreign Secretary made it clear—that Mr Navalny is the victim of a despicable crime, and we call for his immediate and unconditional release. It is really important that Russia must account for itself and its activities.
I thank the Minister very much for the firm response and strong words in response to the urgent question. We stand alongside the protesters and, in particular, Alexei Navalny. We value democracy; Russia clearly does not. Further to the early-day motion that I tabled just yesterday on the treatment of protesters by the Russian police, will she outline whether any of those arrested are British citizens; what the status of any British citizens is in those areas; and further, what support is available for our people who are there?
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in human rights, as do so many on both sides of the Chamber. We are not aware of any British nationals requiring consular support as a result of detentions during the protest, but we always keep our travel advice under constant review.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) is absolutely right to bring to the House this matter and that of the very brave Alexei Navalny, whose rights under the UN convention on human rights have been trampled underfoot and so grievously disrespected by a fellow member of the United Nations Security Council. Will the Minister confirm that she is co-ordinating collective action with our allies on this matter to hold the Russian leadership to account? Will she also confirm that, through the Magnitsky measures and other ways, not just Russia’s leaders but other officials who abuse Alexei Navalny’s human rights can be held to account in a similar way?
I know that my right hon. Friend has taken the issue of sanctions and Magnitsky seriously for some time and championed it. When it comes to the case of Alexei Navalny, we have been absolutely clear from the start in terms of mobilising the international community. We galvanised the international community in condemnation of these deplorable detentions with the statement on 26 January through our role as G7 president. In that statement, we emphasised our deep concern about these developments, but we were also very instrumental in leading international efforts in response to his poisoning in August last year, when we worked closely with our international partners at the OPCW to urge Russia to uphold its obligations under the chemical weapons convention.
The Minister’s angry condemnation of the Russian regime is unlikely to cause much lost sleep in Moscow while the British Government’s actions are so feeble. Last week, the Foreign Secretary was unable to name a single element of the Russia report that had been fully implemented. What we really need today, do we not, Minister, is not strong words, but the promise of actions to get the Russia report fully implemented?
I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman is saying. We have been very clear. We set out the six sanctions against individuals and then an entity involved in the poisoning and attempted murder of Mr Navalny. We have been very clear in our message to Russia that we want to see action, and we also want to see it respond to the OPCW demand for a transparent investigation. In addition, we have been very clear when it comes the ISC report of last year. On the day that it was published, the UK Government issued a response, and we have set out the actions that we will take in terms of introducing new legislation. We have increased the number of investigations through the National Crime Agency into corrupt elites and we are reviewing all tier 1 investor visas granted before 5 April 2015.
Thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian regime murders its opponents abroad. It poisons its challengers at home. It still has armed forces on the sovereign territory of the Ukraine and Georgia. It believes in the Soviet concept of a near abroad and presents a clear threat to continental Europe’s security. Does my hon. Friend have a message for those in Europe who still support the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will make Europe more dependent on Russian gas and give economic comfort to Putin’s gangster regime?
The UK remains concerned about the impact that Nord Stream 2 will have on European energy security, and particularly on the interests of Ukraine. Our focus continues to be supporting resilient European energy markets, including measures that strengthen and diversify gas supply and competition. Obviously, this is a matter for Germany, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that we remain concerned about the impacts of Nord Stream 2.
There are some hon. Members on the Tory Benches who are openly rejoicing at the prospect of Brexit allowing deregulation of financial and investment markets. Given the massive flows of capital between Russian oligarchs and the City of London, how will the Government ensure that Russian officials responsible for human rights abuses are not allowed to profit in this way, and that there will be no diluting of standards and regulations that would get in the way of applying Magnitsky-style scandals?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we continue to step up our activity, both domestically and internationally, to tackle illicit finance and dirty money entering our country. The National Crime Agency has increased the number of investigations into corrupt elites, and under the Criminal Finances Act 2017, we introduced a number of instruments that are being used to tackle illicit finance, including unexplained wealth orders.
The Biden Administration have already made clear that they are going to take a more robust line with Russia, and the subjects of Russia’s treatment of Ukraine and Mr Navalny’s arrest were discussed by President Biden and President Putin during a call earlier this week. What joint steps does the Minister think the US and the UK can take, and has the Foreign Secretary yet had an opportunity to speak to Mr Blinken at the State Department?
We have already demonstrated the way in which the UK has been leading the international effort on the issue of Alexei Navalny, through the OPCW and also through the G7 statement of 26 January. Our Prime Minister spoke with President Biden on 23 January, and the Foreign Secretary spoke with the new US national security adviser on 22 January. During both calls, they agreed on the need to work together on shared foreign and security priorities, such as Russia.
Many people across Newport West and our country commend Mr Navalny and his supporters for their extraordinary bravery in standing up against this corrupt and repressive Government in Moscow. Will the Minister show the same bravery, and set out in clear terms what action this Government, with international partners, will take to demand their immediate release?
The Foreign Secretary has made it absolutely clear that Mr Navalny is the victim of a despicable crime, and we will continue to call for his immediate and unconditional release. The Foreign Secretary has also condemned the Russian authorities’ unacceptable use of violence against peaceful protesters and journalists, which I am sure many of the hon. Lady’s constituents, like mine, have seen in the media. We have called on the Russian Government to respect their international commitments and release those who have been detained during peaceful demonstrations.
The UK, supported by 58 countries, led the joint statement in December calling for Russia to be held to account for what it does. Will my hon. Friend join me in asking the whole House to support and commend the UK on the leading role it is taking in these efforts, sending a very clear message to the Russian Government?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the need for a joined-up approach, and in supporting an international effort to tackle this issue. He is right to recognise that the UK did indeed lead the effort with respect to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, as well as that joint statement in the OPCW, which was supported by no fewer than 58 state parties all calling for Russia to be held to account.
Is not the reason that the Government have failed to implement a single recommendation of the now 15-month-old Russia report and have failed to apply Magnitsky sanctions to the eight individuals to whom Alexei Navalny himself had requested they be applied a simple one—that London is awash with dirty Russian money, as is the Conservative party?
I do not accept the assertion made by the right hon. Gentleman. The ISC Russia report, to which he refers, was released on 21 July, and the Government responded on the very same date. We have set out very clearly what our response is and that Russia remains a top national security priority for the Government. We have issued sanctions against six individuals and one organisation in relation to Alexei Navalny and, as I have made very clear, we will not speculate on who else we may or may not sanction.
I thank my hon. Friend for her statements. Is it not clear that the lesson of watching Russia for the past few years is that Russia—or China, for that matter—does not have any respect for an adversary unless it can show strength? What do all our words of condemnation mean without much more comprehensive action? When will the integrated defence and security review be published, and will it address the role of the City of London in looted Russian money? What will we do to strengthen all our alliances to bring the free world together against both Russia’s internal and external aggression?
We have been very clear on our policy towards Russia. It is that we want a very different relationship with Russia and that Russia must stop its destabilising behaviour towards the UK and its partners. While that continues, there can be no normalisation of our bilateral relationship. We will continue to support human rights in Russia and those who seek to defend them. My hon. Friend attempts to draw me on the integrated review, but I am sure he knows me better than to think that I would speculate on when that may be published.
As a long-standing Member of Parliament, I do not know what the Government’s policy is towards Russia. It is a corrupt regime that poisons people in our country and poisons its democratic citizens in other parts of the world. Is it not about time that we accepted that there is a Russian elite in London, in control of money in property, coming in on private jets with no hindrance, and that we took them on? Then the leaders, particularly Putin, would listen to what we say.
When it comes to the case of Alexei Navalny, we have been very clear about our action. We took the lead on the OPCW in signing up member states to demand that Russia follow up with a transparent investigation. We led the way with the G7 statement yesterday. In addition, we have put in place six sanctions against individuals and one organisation. We have been leading from the front when it comes to the case of Alexei Navalny, and when it comes to Russia, again, I have been very clear about our policy: we want a different relationship with Russia and there can be no normalisation in our bilateral relationship until its passive-aggressive behaviour changes.
Again, we have been very clear what our expectations are when it comes to Russia and Russian behaviour. When it comes to the case of Alexei Navalny, Russia must fully respond to the OPCW demands for a transparent investigation and explain how a chemical weapon came to be used against a Russian citizen on Russian soil. Russia must start to account for itself.
The best way in which we can show our support for Alexei Navalny is not by words but by actions, and not by investigations but by convictions. Navalny himself has said that he wants the international community to use sanctions against complicit Russian kleptocrats who live outside Russia. He has named Abramovich and Usmanov, both of whom have considerable wealth, property and links to English football clubs. On Facebook, Navalny has said that the sanctions have not worked because
“the West has refrained from sanctioning the people with the money” .
Is that true?
Sanctions send a clear message to those responsible that the use of chemical weapons is an egregious violation of the international obligations that we must all uphold to keep societies safe. We continue to work to protect human rights and civil society in Russia. We are considering all options for further action, but as I have said, and as I am sure the right hon. Lady is aware, it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on any future listings.
The arrest of Mr Navalny is a disgraceful act by a Putin regime that is clearly terrified of being held to account by the Russian people. Last year, when Mr Navalny was poisoned, the Government took steps to freeze assets of senior figures in the Russian Government. Can the Minister confirm whether further asset freezes of both individuals and organisations are an option that the UK is prepared to consider this time?
The Minister said that she is “appalled” by what has happened to Mr Navalny and described the event as “despicable”. She went on to pray in aid the United Kingdom’s current G7 presidency as “leading from the front” on Russia and said that the UK has “galvanised the international community”. We only have to listen to what Members have said so far to know that it is not the international community that the Government need to galvanise—they need to galvanise themselves. They will not be trembling in Moscow at anything the Minister, who I like, has had to say this afternoon, and there certainly will not be any winds of relief in Mr Navalny’s prison cell from what she has said. I do not want her to speculate; I want her to do something. I want her to implement the full recommendations of the ISC report. She owes this House and those protesting in Russia at the weekend an explanation as to why the Government flatly refuse to do so.
The hon. Gentleman quotes my words, so I will re-quote them: the UK has galvanised the international community in condemnation of these deplorable detentions. As the G7 president, we issued a G7 Foreign Ministers’ statement on 26 January. When it comes to the issue of the Russia report, as I have set out very clearly, Russia is a top national security priority for the Government. We will be introducing new legislation; I have made that very clear. The National Crime Agency has increased the number of investigations into corrupt elites, and we are also reviewing all tier 1 investor visas granted before 5 April 2015.
I agree with the Minister that Russia is a destabilising force with little regard for human rights and international law. Of course, that affects us, especially as Russia continues to use its veto to stall the United Nations in investigating genocide. Does the Minister agree with the Government’s position that the determination of genocide falls to international courts, but when they are in paralysis, with countries such as Russia having a hold over them, the obligation to investigate and prevent a genocide falls to domestic courts?
This particular urgent question in respect of Russia is very much about the issue of Navalny and the action that the UK has been taking. I have been clear about the way we approach this issue and have set out that we absolutely condemn the action and call for Navalny’s immediate release.
I support everything that the Minister has said in her condemnation of the Putin regime in relation to Mr Navalny, and commend her balanced approach.
Ever since I married my Russian Orthodox wife, I have tried to understand Russia and the sensitivities of the Russian people. Will the Minister make it clear that, while we condemn the Putin regime, there will be nothing Russophobe about our attitude? That means we need to understand Russian cultural and historical sensitivities. On the Council of Europe, engagement with Russian parliamentarians may sometimes be useful—as Winston Churchill said, “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.”
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. I have set out today the fact that we want a different relationship with Russia, but I absolutely accept that there are often people-to-people links, which are something entirely different, and when it comes to culture there are many links between our two countries. But let me be absolutely clear that Russia’s pattern of aggressive behaviour undermines its claim that it is a responsible international partner that upholds the rules-based international system. We in the UK will continue to support human rights in Russia and those who seek to defend them.