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House of Lords Hansard
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08 April 2014
Volume 753

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what basis they have established an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in the United Kingdom.

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My Lords, the Prime Minister’s decision to commission a review was taken on the grounds of national interest against a backdrop of substantial recent change, particularly in the Middle East and north Africa. The review will make sure that we have a thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its impact and influence on our national security and interests, and on stability and prosperity in the Middle East.

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My noble friend will be aware that the Muslim Brotherhood is a pan-Islamic organisation which takes very different forms in different countries. If the Government believe that the brotherhood might be involved in violent extremism, why do they not use existing counterterrorism laws to prosecute it in the courts? If, on the other hand, this inquiry is being driven at the behest of Saudi Arabia to discredit the brotherhood, I respectfully suggest to my noble friend that it is the United Kingdom’s Government and its foreign policy which risk being discredited, by portraying the brotherhood in the eyes of its many Muslim supporters around the world as victims of a politically motivated Government acting at the behest of an authoritarian foreign power: Saudi Arabia. Can the Minister tell the House whether the results of the inquiry will be made public?

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My Lords, my Answer made it quite clear that this is about the UK’s national interest and the UK Government forming their own view. The review will make sure that we have a thorough understanding of the Muslim Brotherhood, its impact and influence on our national security and other national interests, and on stability and prosperity in the Middle East. We are not talking about the view of another Government; we are talking about this Government. The review will consult widely with experts, regional Governments, the EU and US partners. The UK Government will make up their own mind.

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My Lords, if press reports are correct, this review is being headed by Her Britannic Majesty’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Does this not put Sir John Jenkins in an extremely invidious position, given that the Government to whom he is accredited take every possible step, as the noble Baroness has said, to discredit and to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood?

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I cannot agree with the noble Lord, although he speaks with a great deal of authority. He will know that Sir John Jenkins has been asked to lead the review because he is one of our most senior diplomats, with extensive knowledge of the Arab world, and his role is to serve Her Majesty’s Government. He was not chosen because of his current role as ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He is not working alone, and will draw on independent advice from other places.

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My Lords, the Minister referred to a review, but the Prime Minister used the words “an investigation” or “an inquiry”, and there may be some difference. It would be helpful if we could have some information on that. Has he taken the opportunity to talk about this to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, who always impresses your Lordships’ House with her knowledge of such issues? A report in the Financial Times says that a senior government figure reported on “tensions” between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Prime Minister’s Office on this, saying:

“This cuts against what the FCO has already been doing in this area, both domestically and in the Middle East. It risks turning supporters of a moderate, non-violent organisation that campaigns for democracy into radicals”.

Is there a tension at the heart of the Government, and is this a review or an investigation?

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Not at all, my Lords. My noble friend and I are at one on the issue.

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My Lords, can my noble friend tell me and the House whether the ambassador will go on being an ambassador while he is also leading the inquiry, and if so, is there not a conflict of interest?

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I am sure that ways will be found whereby his duties as ambassador can be delegated where necessary. However, he has been appointed to that role as an ambassador, and will continue to undertake that role. I see no conflict of interest. As the noble Lord, Lord Wright, recognised, the diplomatic skills that Sir John Jenkins has are essential for a proper understanding of the situation.

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My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many other reviews or investigations have been conducted in this manner into groups we have been concerned about? I cannot remember that we undertook any reviews or investigations in this manner of the groups that we were worried about during the three years that I was a Minister.

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That was a decision for the previous Government. This Government have made up their own mind that they want to know more about the Muslim Brotherhood and its influence on politics and groups in this country. I hope that noble Lords will understand that this is a British review conducted by the British Government. I was asked earlier and did not give an answer—this is obviously an internal review for the Government themselves. However, it is expected that Sir John Jenkins and the group will want to make some of their findings public.

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My Lords—

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As this is manifestly a sordid plot from Saudi Arabia, would it not be more interesting if HMG had conversations with the Saudi Government about allowing women to drive cars in that country?

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That question is not worthy of my noble friend. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, was trying to get in, as I had named him.

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With the permission of the House I wish to make a very brief remark. As a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, I would find it extremely difficult if anyone were to ask me to head this review.

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In answer to that, I can say only that I am very pleased that Sir John Jenkins has not found it so. I am sure that he will do an excellent job in the national interest.