Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




1. Good morning, and welcome to the International Development Committee, which I know Tony Faint, anyway, is very familiar with, but Tony Brenton is not. We are delighted to see you here and to have got your memorandum, thank you, and your supplementary memorandum, on this subject. We are right at the beginning of this subject, and we are going to be helped by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, and you are the Legal Adviser ...

 (Ms Wilmshurst) Yes, I am one of the Legal Advisers in the Foreign Office.

2. And you are an expert on sanctions, are you?

 (Ms Wilmshurst) It is part of my work, yes.

3. Right; and then we have Mr Edward Chaplin, and can you tell us, Edward Chaplin, what you do?

 (Mr Chaplin) I am Head of the Middle East Department in the Foreign Office, which includes dealing with all Iraq issues. I think that is why I am here.

4. Would I be right in saying that you are the Desk Officer for Iraq?

 (Mr Chaplin) I am Head of the Department, and there is a section within my Department which deals exclusively with Iraq.

5. Exclusively with Iraq; so you are the expert on Iraq?

 (Mr Chaplin) No, sorry, I am the Head of the Department; there is a section within my Department which deals exclusively with Iraq.

6. Right; good. Well, all of you, you are very welcome as we try to explore this subject. We, of course, are particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on developmental issues, and therefore humanitarian issues, in the targeted countries for these sanctions, and, not incidentally, I think, on whether or not such suffering induced by sanctions is productive of anything. But I see from your announcement of the Government's review of sanctions policy that, in fact, you have come to the conclusion that they will remain an important tool of our foreign policy, whether they are effective or not. Anyway, we shall explore that matter.

 (Mr Brenton) I do not recall those words being used, Chairman.

7. The Government, as you say, has recently done a wide-ranging review of sanctions. Our first question is, what was the impetus behind the Government's review of sanctions policy, why did you start down this road, Mr Brenton?

 (Mr Brenton) Of course, the UN and the EU have introduced quite a large number of sanctions regimes over the past five years or so.

8. Spreading them around, yes.

 (Mr Brenton) And there was a feeling that we ought to take a comprehensive look at these regimes, and whether really we were using sanctions in the targeted way in which they ought to be used. And you have seen the conclusions of the review set out in the Foreign Secretary's memorandum to you, that we concluded there is a very strong case for making them into a much more sharp and precise instrument of foreign policy, to be rather clearer in the objectives, and to make sure, in particular, and this is the concern of this Committee, I think, that, as far as possible, the humanitarian impact was minimised, i.e. that they were targeted on regimes rather than populations, and that especially vulnerable sections of populations, as far as possible, should be protected from them.

9. Yes; so there was a bit of disquiet in the Foreign Office about whether or not we were using this instrument properly?

(Mr Brenton) I should emphasise that it was not, of course, only the Foreign Office; the review was Whitehall-wide, the Foreign Secretary, who leads in Whitehall on sanctions policy, initiated it and signed off the final conclusions. But DFID, in particular, have been fully involved, as have other interested Departments in Whitehall, the Treasury, DTI, Customs and Excise, who are responsible for policing a lot of sanctions regimes, and so on.

10. Apart from Mr Tony Lloyd's reply to Ms Ryan on 15 March, and, indeed, your paper that you sent to us on the future of sanctions, are there other conclusions of the review you would like to emphasise to the Committee?

 (Mr Brenton) I do not think so. The main conclusions, indeed, all the conclusions, are set out in the Foreign Secretary's memorandum to you.

Mr Rowe

11. Can I just ask, did you discover that there has ever been a regime that has been toppled by sanctions?

 (Mr Brenton) I think you can make quite a strong case for the view that the change of regime in South Africa was, to a large extent, assisted in that direction by the impact of international sanctions.

12. Despite the fact that the British Government, on the whole, did not go along with it much?

 (Mr Brenton) We participated in internationally accepted activities at the time.


13. On that point, in South Africa, if you talked to Mr de Klerk, for example, which I did on two occasions, and asked him that question, he said the sanctions were not effective except when the Swiss banks refused to roll over loans which came due for payment to the South African Government. So that it was not the general sanctions campaign but it was the refusal, under pressure, international pressure, of the Swiss banks to roll over loans to the South African Government which really faced them with the international repercussions and national repercussions of continuing the apartheid regime?

 (Mr Brenton) I do not think I would claim that sanctions by themselves have ever toppled a government; what I would claim is that sanctions have often formed an important component of a general set of international actions and attitudes which, combined with internal developments, obviously, in the case of South Africa, have played a material part in changing a situation for the better.

Tess Kingham

14. I just wanted to comment on the statement the Chair has made and ask for your opinion. I visited South Africa on a few occasions when the sanctions regimes were in place, and the biggest impact appeared to be on the morale of the various communities that the sanctions were affecting, in particular the business community, and that seemed to be felt very strongly. Did your review look at the impacts not just on the governmental processes of sanctions but also on the population at large and business?

 (Mr Brenton) We did a review of various sanctions regimes, including South Africa, and, yes, that is right, it is not only the impact on Government but on influential sectors of the population who play in to the developing mood in the country which finally was what changed things in South Africa.


15. But is not the assumption behind sanctions this, that if you put sanctions on a country it is going to deprive large elements of that country of trade, of food, normal foods that they expect to receive in their diet, that it is going to so infuriate them that the people of that country will bring pressure to bear on the regime of which you do not approve to change its policy? If that is so, therefore, if that population which is being so inconvenienced by sanctions does not actually have any power to change the regime, the sanctions will not be effective?

 (Mr Brenton) I think, yes, generating popular pressure for change is part of the effect of some sanctions regimes, and a complication here is that different sanctions regimes are applied in different ways. Obviously, if you are dealing with a regime where popular pressure will have very limited impact then you need to focus your sanctions more on things which directly affect the regime, like their capacity to travel, like their holdings of overseas assets, and so on. And quite a lot of the product of our review is precisely the conclusion that we need to move away from blunderbuss, hit-the-whole-population type sanctions towards targeted, hit the regime and its supporters type sanctions. So, yes, I think that is a lesson which we very much accept.

16. Can a copy of your review be made available to the Committee?

 (Mr Brenton) I am afraid not; it contains sensitive material.

17. What kind of material, what sort of material does it contain?

 (Mr Brenton) It takes quite a broad look at the impacts of sanctions on other regimes in the world, on British interests; and we have, as I say, summarised its main conclusions for you in the memorandum from the Foreign Secretary.

18. Are you going to publish the review; presumably not?

 (Mr Brenton) No.

19. What role did the Department of International Development, Tony Faint, have in this process, and what did you contribute to the review?

 (Mr Faint) DFID was fully involved in the review, along with the other Departments that Tony Brenton mentioned. The standpoint from which we took part in the review was to draw attention to and bring forward the analysis that we have done on the humanitarian effects of sanctions and the various approaches which might be possible to reduce their impact on poor and vulnerable groups; and I think that you can see, from the results of the review, that all those points were taken very seriously. So I think we were very happy with our participation in the review, and we are very much behind the outcome that Tony Brenton described, in terms of favouring more specific, targeted regimes, clear objectives, exit strategies; all these things go very much in the direction of the kind of way we would like to go.

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