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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Britain’s political class has a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to Iran, warns MP

The state has backed insurgents who killed British soldiers in Iraq and hacked emails of politicians, says Robert Jenrick

The US Treasury imposed sanctions against the nine who it said had funnelled millions of dollars to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Qods Force. Reuters
The US Treasury imposed sanctions against the nine who it said had funnelled millions of dollars to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Qods Force. Reuters

Britain’s political class has a ‘blind spot’ when it comes to Iran and its activities, a senior British MP has warned, despite the Middle Eastern state having backed insurgents who killed British soldiers in Iraq and having hacked the emails of lawmakers at Westminster.

Robert Jenrick, a Tory politician who is a close aide to the home secretary Amber Rudd, wrote in The Daily Telegraph that while fellow members were up in arms about the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, they had paid little attention to other more egregious actions the state had carried out.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in jail in Iran since April 2016, after she was arrested while visiting relatives in the country.

A British-Iranian dual citizen, she has become a political pawn as the regime in Tehran has looked to wring financial and other concessions from the British government in exchange for her release.

It was reported last week that the Foreign Office was ready to pay off a decade’s old debt of £400 million too smooth the path to freedom for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“Westminster is waking up to the reality that elements in Iran have meant us harm for some time and that the nuclear deal we supported is silent upon much of it,” Mr Jenrick wrote.

He noted that the House of Commons had never debated the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which saw the Iranians agree to halt their nuclear programme in return for having sanctions lifted against them and their assets in the West unfrozen.

Mr Jenrick continued: “In the preceding years the House of Commons had scarcely discussed Iran’s support for armed insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan who killed British troops with the deadly IED’s and the training Iran supplied.”

Nor had there been discussion about how Iran’s Revolutionary Guard had been seeking to undermine British allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, or that the likeliest culprit behind a cyberattack that stole 9,000 of MPs emails was the country.

“However the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British lady held in Iran for no good reason, has finally captured Parliament and the nation’s attention and forced us to examine how we hold Iran to account for its actions,” Mr Jenrick notes.

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He concludes that perhaps MPs “see in the young millennials of Iran a clear generational shift in need of our support, even if it requires a blind eye to be turned here and there to the human rights abuses and criminal justice failings of the present regime.”

After the JCPOA was struck, the hope was that Iran would enter the international community and liberalise; it doesn’t appear to have done so, according to Mr Jenrick.

“Whether it be the treatment of a British citizen abroad or the backing of Shia groups from the Gulf to the Red Sea, Iran continues to challenge and to destabilise. Saudi Arabia and others build their response and a storm gathers in the region,” he writes.

The parliamentary ‘blind spot’ over Iran must stop, because even though MPs may think that ignoring Iran’s excesses is a price worth paying, Mr Jenrick says, not holding the country properly to account is far likelier to lead to the JCPOA falling to pieces.