Fragmented and incoherent: the UK’s sanctions policy: Government Response to the Committee’s Seventeenth Report

Annex: Letter from Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to the Chair of the Committee

Legal position regarding the introduction of autonomous UK human rights sanctions

Further to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s recent report dated 12 June 2019, I am writing to respond to the Committee’s recommendation that the Government must set out a clear legal position regarding the United Kingdom’s ability to adopt and implement an international human rights sanctions regime (‘Magnitsky’ sanctions) while still an EU member and during any possible implementation period after EU exit. I would like to apologise for the delay in responding to your request for this information.

The Government’s legal position is that regulations under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (the Sanctions Act) could be made to impose autonomous UK sanctions before the United Kingdom leaves the EU and during the Implementation Period. In relation to the Committee’s specific question regarding a sanctions regime which imposes a travel ban and/or asset freeze on certain persons responsible for committing human rights violations or abuses, we have come to the conclusion that these measures can be imposed having had regard to the fact that the adoption of sanctions measures is not an area of exclusive EU competence.

Furthermore, the pursuit of a human rights sanctions regime would support Government policy on promoting and defending human rights, and would also, by extension, reinforce stated EU policy positions and objectives.

I am pleased to confirm that this Government intends to establish an autonomous United Kingdom human rights sanctions regime. Work has already begun on the secondary legislation and associated processes that would be required in order to implement this regime as soon as practicable after we leave the EU. While we are still determining the exact scope and nature of this sanctions regime, it would help support the United Kingdom’s work in promoting and defending human rights around the world. Such a sanctions regime would allow the United Kingdom to respond to human rights abuses and violations as they arise anywhere in the world, even when a geographically focused sanctions regime is not currently in place.

I trust this reassures the Committee that the Government is giving this policy area the due attention and careful consideration required to ensure that any action the Government takes in the future would be proportionate, legal, and in support of the United Kingdom’s foreign policy and national security objectives. I would be happy to update the Committee on this work in due course.

I am copying this letter to all members of the Committee.

Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP
3 September 2019

Published: 9 September 2019