Lisa Nandy – 2020 Speech on the Presidential Elections in Belarus

The speech made by Lisa Nandy, the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the House of Commons on 24 September 2020.

Let me start by thanking the Foreign Secretary for this statement and for advance sight of it. It is rare, but it matters when we agree with one another in all parts of the House. It sends a message to the people of Belarus that this whole House stands with them on their right to choose their own destiny, and to resist interference in their elections and freedoms from anywhere, wherever it comes from. That is why we believe he is right to focus support on the people of Belarus and to focus on tackling the human rights abuses—the tear gas, detentions and beatings—we have seen in recent weeks. I know he will also be as concerned as I am about reports of torture, so perhaps he will take this opportunity to reaffirm his Government’s ​commitment to upholding the Geneva convention. I want to pay particular tribute to those brave women who have stood up in recent days to the armed, masked men and shown the face of courage to the world. When they defend democracy and stand up for freedom, they stand up for us all and they must have our support.

We very much support the Foreign Secretary’s efforts to work with allies to impose Magnitsky sanctions on those involved. Has he had discussion with counterparts about including Lukashenko in these measures? Has he made any progress in ensuring that corruption is in the scope of the Magnitsky legislation that this House recently passed? I welcome the funding the Foreign Secretary has provided to human rights organisations, but will he tell the House what he is doing to protect academics? Is he exploring increasing the number of Chevening scholarships to Belarusians? Has he considered measures to support protesters who have lost their jobs or been blacklisted for the stance they have taken? He will know from his previous work that there is more than one way to harass, intimidate and silence people into compliance, and taking away livelihoods has always been one chief way in which dictatorships seek to silence people. I am particularly concerned about members of the arts and cultural community, more than 50 of whom have been detained, with a greater number having lost their livelihoods. What active steps is the British embassy taking to protect writers and other cultural figures, as well as others involved in the protests, from interference?

The BBC Russian service is a key source of impartial information for the people of Belarus. I am very concerned about the potential for both funding cuts to the World Service and the targeting of its journalists. So will he commit to ensuring that Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office funding for this service is protected in any upcoming spending review? What is his Department doing to support BBC journalists and protect them from attacks on them and their families? Has he had any discussions with the Home Secretary about provision for Belarusians seeking asylum in the UK? Will he take this opportunity to reiterate the UK’s support for free and fair elections around the world? I welcome his announcement about the OSCE today. Will he commit to ensure that we play our part in continuing to provide funding to uphold democracy abroad and security at home?

As the Foreign Secretary moves forward with sanctions, this underlines the importance of the UK safeguarding against the UK and our overseas territories providing a safe haven for money obtained through corruption and human rights abuse—blood money, as he called it. So what progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the Russia report? The Government have been silent on that matter since it was published before the summer recess.

Finally, one of the leading figures in the Belarusian opposition council said recently that more than the prospect of detention what he fears is the prospect that nothing will change. We send a message from all parts of this House today that we stand with him and with those who are defending freedom and democracy, in Belarus and around the world.