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Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 20 July 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 30 June be approved.

Relevant document: 10th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, this instrument was laid on 4 July under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, also known as the sanctions Act. It amends the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to introduce new measures in the financial, trade and transport sectors. These sanctions seek to deter Belarus from engaging in further action that destabilises Ukraine. The instrument has been considered and not reported by both the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I am grateful to your Lordships for ensuring that these matters are addressed properly. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for the previous discussions that we have had on this issue.

Since 24 February, Belarus has actively facilitated Mr Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. It has permitted Russia to use its territory to pincer Ukraine, launching troops and missiles from its border and flying Russian jets through its airspace. Mr Lukashenko has also openly supported the Kremlin’s narrative, claiming that Kyiv was provoking Russia to justify Putin’s entirely unprovoked assault. In response to this continued support for Russia’s invasion, we are introducing a further package of sanctions measures. These measures follow actions taken since the invasion of Ukraine, including the designation of over 50 Belarusian individuals and organisations for their role in aiding and abetting this reckless aggression.

These further measures build on the wide-ranging sanctions already imposed on Belarus and Mr Lukashenko, as well as members of his family and his regime, for their role in violating democratic principles and the rule of law, and violently oppressing civil society, democratic opposition leaders and independent media within Belarusian borders. To be quite clear, our grievance is not with the Belarusian people, who are themselves—I am sure all noble Lords accept this premise—victims of intense repression; it is with the actions of the Lukashenko regime and its adherents in supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The measures introduced by this instrument include further financial sanctions, banning more Belarusian companies from issuing debt and securities in London or obtaining loans from UK banks. They prohibit UK individuals and entities from providing financial services to the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus or the Belarusian Ministry of Finance to prevent Belarus deploying its foreign reserves in ways that undermine the impact of other sanctions.

The measures include new trade sanctions, including a ban on the export to Belarus of dual-use goods and technology for all purposes and a ban on the export of critical industry goods and technologies, and components related to quantum computing. This includes high-end equipment such as microelectronics, marine and navigation equipment, and aircraft and aircraft components. It will place further constraints on Belarus’s military-industrial and technological capabilities.

The measures ban the export of oil-refining goods and technology, cutting off access to components required for Belarus’s petroleum-refining industry, one of the country’s highest-value export sectors. They include a ban on the export of luxury goods to Belarus, preventing the elite buying items such as artworks and designer accessories sold by British companies, and a ban on the import of iron and steel from Belarus.

Finally, this legislation introduces new transport measures. It extends aircraft measures introduced in 2021, so that the UK now has the power to detain and deregister Belarusian aircraft. The legislation also introduces new shipping measures, prohibiting Belarusian ships from entering UK ports and introducing powers to detain and deregister ships.

The instrument we are debating today enshrines in law our further sanctions on the Belarusian regime and delivers the commitment made by my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to issue decisive sanctions against Belarus for its part in this wholly unjustified and continuing war on Ukraine.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these measures, which my party strongly supports. He will recall that, when we discussed the first tranche of the new form of sanctions against Russia, I specifically raised the need to move swiftly to expand the provisions to the Lukashenko regime. It has been the facilitator, host and handmaiden of grotesque abuses of international law and human rights norms.

I support the policy objectives of these regulations, which are to coerce and constrain, and signal to Belarus that the UK stands strongly against its practices. I support all those elements. Just yesterday, the UN aviation agency found that Belarusian officials are to blame for a bomb hoax on a Ryanair flight which forced it to land in Minsk so that they could secure those who are, in effect, journalist freedom fighters. The agency said it was

“an act of unlawful interference”,

which shows the unreliability of the Lukashenko regime. It is therefore right that the aviation, shipping and transportation sectors are covered.

I have a general question on our relationship with the European Union, which is now in its fifth round of restrictive measures against Belarus. When the Minister responds to this short debate, it would help if he could reassure me that we are now in like-for-like lockstep with the EU’s restrictive measures—with the same list of individuals and the same restrictions on services and financial services that are now in our measures. Are we in complete alignment with the European Union? I ask this because one of the elements—which I support—allows for greater co-ordination with the United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia. It would be helpful to know whether our list of relevant individuals under these regulations is the same as the European Union’s list.

The Minister may not want to respond to this today, but I understand that through the Czech presidency of the EU an invitation has been extended to the UK to participate in the EU forum on Ukraine in late August or early September. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that it is intended that the UK will be represented at it.

I want to ask a couple of questions about the measures. I do so fully knowing that UK trade with Belarus is limited. According to the Department for International Trade, Belarus is the UK’s 115th largest trading partner, so the trade is fairly minimal. Nevertheless, there are still British interests and foreign direct investment into Belarus from the UK. It is only £21 million, but it would be helpful to know whether FDI, as well as the other trading elements of UK trade, will all be covered by these measures—which I would support, if they are.

I am grateful that the Government have brought forward a clear impact assessment on these measures, because this is helpful in understanding the likely consequences. The Government have said that the mid-range estimate of the impact on the UK over a nine-year period is likely to be £370 million, which is significant, and will focus on these key areas.

One of the areas in this measure is shipping. We know that it has been Belarus’s practice to use UK-based enterprises, and there is concern that that is a likely to be a conduit for Russian activity. Will these measures cover UK-registered ships that carry out business activity for Belarusian interests? The regulations at the moment restrict the registration of ships in the name of designated persons and Belarusian ships. I have asked the Minister questions on this before. With regard to the wider insurance market, as well as those British-registered ships, are they also covered by these measures?

There is an interesting and helpful line in paragraph 18 of the impact assessment. The Government have recognised that while these sanctions are tough—as they should be, and I support them—

“there does remain the risk that further sanctioning reduces Belarus’ sovereignty by forcing them to rely further on Russia economically.”

The Government have said that we have no complaint with the Belarusian people. It would be helpful to know whether there are exit strategies for our relationship with Belarus, given that the Government have highlighted a risk that we are effectively making Belarus almost entirely dependent on Russia.

My final question, and I will be happy if the Minister writes to me on it, is about applicability in the overseas territories of Gibraltar and Bermuda, and in Jersey and the Isle of Man. The Government have said that they intend to make secondary legislation under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act that will apply these measures to those territories. When are the Government likely to bring that forward? At the moment, we strongly support this measure, but there are gaps with regards to those territories. I will be happy if the Minister chooses to write to me with clarification on those points. If he can respond today, that is very welcome, but if not, I will be very happy to receive a letter.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that we are again debating further sanctions against Belarus. I once again say to the Minister that the Opposition fully support the Government’s actions in this regard.

Lukashenko’s regime has consistently dismissed human rights in an effort to tighten his grip over the people of Belarus, with devastating consequences. The absence of fair elections, combined with crackdowns on civil society and intolerance of a free press, has resulted in the torture, arrest and disappearance of entirely innocent people.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Foulkes, who has personally adopted a political prisoner and urged others to do likewise. I will make the point that the noble Lord made: this is about not punishing the people of Belarus but making sure they and the world know that we are on their side. That is an important point. What we say in this Chamber does not always echo around the world, but we know that civil society in Belarus will be listening today and welcoming the Government’s actions in this regard.

What Lukashenko fears most is of course his own people. They are calling for a brighter future, which has led to such brutal reprisals. This fear has also led Lukashenko to support Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, because Kyiv has shown that democracy and human rights are the starting block for a prosperous and secure nation, which is entirely incompatible with the lies that both leaders, Putin and Lukashenko, tell their people.

The new sanctions before the House are in response to that invasion and build on the sanctions we have imposed before. In recent weeks we have seen further indiscriminate shelling, preparations for the next stage of the offensive and the emergence of a new humanitarian crisis. Lukashenko’s support has emboldened Putin to act with impunity, which is why it is vital that we act. We must treat his regime as equally culpable, and we are absolutely behind the Government on this.

I turn to the sanctions and echo a number of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made, but I have a couple of other points in addition. Part 2 includes a new power to designate persons by description, which I know we discussed on the sanctions Bill. Can the Minister explain what safeguards are in place to prevent individuals being mistakenly targeted as a result?

Meanwhile, Part 3 is focused on financial services. On this point, I ask the Minister to tell us exactly what assessment and examination the Government have made of the dirty money in the United Kingdom, particularly the illicit Belarusian finance in London. I hope he can reassure the House on that.

Part 4 creates new export and import restrictions, which appear to be similar to those previously issued against Russia. Can the Minister perhaps explain why these have not been introduced sooner?

I also pick up the point about Belarusian ships in Part 5. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, addressed that, so I hope the Minister will answer that question.

Finally, the Minister has repeatedly assured us about the overseas territories, and I assume these issues are covered in the joint ministerial council with the overseas territories. To be effective, it is vital that the sanctions are actioned in concert with others, that it is a global action and—even more importantly—that our overseas territories act absolutely in step with the United Kingdom Government. I hope he can reassure us on that front.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their strong support, as has been consistent since the sanctions regime was introduced. Today is no different and that is right, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said about how many people might be in your Lordships’ Chamber. There are others who listen and my experience over a number of years suggests to me that what we say matters. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, as I am sure they both know from their own correspondence, that people pick up on quite specific items within each debate that we have.

At the outset, I assure the noble Lords that our co-ordination with all our partners, including the European Union, is very much in a strong place. If there is a difference in the specifics upon whom a sanction may apply, it is simply one of process only and there is quickly an alignment. We have moved on some sanctions quicker than the EU, or indeed the Americans. The Americans have a different system, of course; they can introduce certain things by executive orders. We have certainly seen the speed at which we have been able to move since we brought forward additional legislation on sanctions to allow for the expedited application of particular issues.

I will pick up on a few of the specific questions and, of course, where I have not answered I will ensure that a letter is sent. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about designations by description. Within our processes for any sanction that is applied, there is quite a rigorous application to ensure that there is mitigation in place if there is a wrong person, as names can often be duplicated. Equally, notwithstanding that robust process, the right of appeal that every individual or organisation has is a right that we need to ensure is protected. Undoubtedly, with all the best intent and all the rigour of processes and mitigations in place, that is not always the case. There can be examples where someone passes away, or reforms—one should never give up hope in that respect. The fact that we review sanctions regimes is positive; that will very much remain the case.

The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, asked about alignment with the Crown dependencies and OTs. I confirm again on record that all UK sanctions regimes apply in all the UK Crown dependencies and overseas territories, either by Orders in Council or through each jurisdiction’s own legislation. The ones which apply their own legislation in this respect have been Jersey, Guernsey, Gibraltar and Bermuda, which legislate for themselves. Orders in Council make the necessary changes to ensure the effective implementation of measures.

On 13 April, an order was laid that extended amendment SIs Nos. 2 to 7, and on 19 July a further order was made that extended amendment SI No. 8, so we are moving through this process. In reply to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about direct engagement with the territories, I can assure the House that while I am no longer the Minister for the Overseas Territories I know that my colleagues have been focused on ensuring that we align ourselves. The feedback we get from the Crown dependencies and OTs is very much aligned to our thinking.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised further measures that could be taken here in the City of London to ensure that if the cash flows that have come in are illicit, people are protected. I think there were measures brought in through the first economic crime Act; we will, of course, be introducing additional measures. As well as introducing those new measures, this will allow us, rightly, to reflect on the expertise, insight and experience of your Lordships’ House to see how that legislation can be strengthened.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the exit strategy on the Belarusian regime and its people. As with all sanctions, there is of course a gateway when it comes to issues of humanitarian support. Sometimes the question has been asked, “With a landlocked country, why have you introduced shipping restrictions?” Those shipping restrictions apply because there are Belarusian-registered and flagged ships. He asked a specific question about flagged ships from other countries that may do business in Belarus. If I may, I will write to him specifically on that point, as it is a valid question to raise. But of course the instructions and directions are being shared with all key members of the industry, and industry organisations ensure those are relayed to all their members. However, I will look into that and write to him.

On what is happening in Belarus, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, rightly drew our attention to the continued suppression of civil society and communities. Just about every human right under the sun is being suppressed, whether we are talking about journalists, civil society groups or political prisoners. Therefore, it is important that we are seen to be not just talking and condemning but acting. We continue to work closely with EU member states, the US and Canada on these continued and additional accountability measures, including through the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, which the UK, EU and individual member states established in 2021 and which is a good premise on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on co-ordination in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also drew attention to Ryanair flight FR4978. We all remember that appalling occasion when the flight was forced to land and individuals were taken off it. I am fully aware of the situation with ICAO, and we welcome its fact-finding report of 18 July, attributing state responsibility for the forced diversion to Belarus—specifically, the Belarusian regime. Senior figures in the regime knowingly participated in this act of unlawful interference with a civil aircraft, thereby endangering the safety and security of everyone on board. As we saw, people were taken off the plane in a flagrant violation of the Chicago and Montreal conventions, to which Belarus is a signatory. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we will stay very much focused on the sanctions. Where there is direct flaunting of international rules and regulations to which countries have signed up, it is right that we hold those countries to account. There are broader issues in Belarus, including the death penalty, attending trials et cetera, that we will continue to attend to and make representations on.

The shipping measures specifically cover ships owned, controlled, chartered or operated by a designated person connected with Belarus—meaning a Belarus-registered or domiciled company or an individual in or ordinarily resident in Belarus—and ships flying the flag of Belarus or registered there. There is also a general provision, on which I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that says “or a specified ship”, which can have quite a broad impact. I am no marine shipping expert, but I know that, like aircraft, every ship is monitored and mapped. Certainly, the “specified ship” category is quite broad but, as I said, I will write to the noble Lord on that.

I believe that I have covered most, if not all, of the questions, with the exception of clarifying the detail on the application of the ship provision. On sanctions, although there have been differences in our perspectives on a range of policies, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, and noble Lords across your Lordships’ House for their strength of unity, purpose and engagement, standing firm with the people of Ukraine. Our sanctions today reflect that we will stand firm against those who stand with Mr Putin and the continued Russian aggression towards, and war with, Ukraine. We will continue to work with our partners to ensure that a clear message is given to Mr Putin and those like Mr Lukashenko who support his regime.

I once again thank noble Lords for their questions, which helped to clarify certain elements of the application of these sanctions, and for their support for the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 7.33 pm.