Foreign AffairsSpeeches

Matthew Offord – 2022 Speech on Iran’s Nuclear Programme

The speech made by Matthew Offord, the Conservative MP for Hendon, in the House of Commons on 30 June 2022.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) for this debate—it has certainly been a long time coming—on an issue of concern to many of us in this House. I pay tribute to him for his efforts in securing it. The contributions of all Members have been not only well reasoned but very constructive. The right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) raised issues that perhaps we do not all agree with, but it is important for us to consider them as part of today’s discussion.

The spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran has been looming for several years, and it presents a profound threat to our collective way of life. Only last night I gave a speech to the National Jewish Assembly, where I was asked at what point the United Kingdom would step in to stop the emergence of a nuclear Iran. I have to say that, if we fail to take action now, our later options will be a lot more extreme. The moment to take the appropriate action, under the JCPOA, is now.

It is almost unthinkable that the world’s greatest sponsor of state terrorism could be on the nuclear threshold, but that is the reality. Two of today’s speakers have mentioned Ahmadinejad saying that he would like to wipe Israel off the map, which could be taken in two ways. I think he was being provocative while at the same time speaking politically. The issue of the JCPOA and a nuclear Iran is not about Israel and Iran. It is not even about Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. It is about the Twelver Muslims, who have a different ideology and view of the world, which they would like to see adopted by other Muslim countries, and they would certainly like to see it in the western hemisphere as well.

This fundamentalist regime is responsible for the most heinous human rights abuses, both at home in Iran and, indeed, abroad. It is a regime that is committed to exporting violent ideology across the world, that has reneged on repeated commitments to the international community, and that has been found guilty in European courts of orchestrating terrorist events. I have mentioned previously that those terrorist events included the possibility of five parliamentarians—two of us are sitting here today—being subject to the violence and destruction orchestrated and founded by Tehran.

The entire integrity of the JCPOA and its ability to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been called into question by several of us for many years. Originally, we were concerned that there were no clauses in the JCPOA requiring Iran to stop transferring funds to terrorist proxies. It certainly did not seek an end to domestic human rights abuses in the country, or to end the testing of the ballistic missile programme. Those were all structural weaknesses of the JCPOA and we were very concerned about that.

It is not just centre-right politicians in the United Kingdom and the United States who are concerned about this issue. Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently questioned why his own Administration were trying to return to the JCPOA when it was

“not sufficient in the first place—and still doesn’t address some of the most serious national security concerns we have.”

He is by no means alone in reaching such a conclusion.

It is an inescapable reality that Iran’s systematic non-compliance with the JCPOA nuclear deal has rendered it dead, despite the efforts of the US and the E3 to resuscitate it. Yet all the available evidence suggests that the E3 and the US remain committed, albeit perhaps forlornly, to desperately resuscitating the 2015 framework. There seems to be no plan B under consideration.

The reported terms of the renewed nuclear agreement make for alarming reading. Not only will it leave much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact; it will also receive enormous sanctions relief. It is clear that this will again fail to provide a long-term, sustainable answer to Iran’s belligerent nuclear actions.

The great risk is that, in the absence of an ambitious, broad and punitive nuclear framework, Iran will become a nuclear-armed state in a matter of years—perhaps just three. Buying time is not a viable strategy for the UK Government. At some point, the international community is likely to be faced with an Iranian regime arming itself with a nuclear weapon. We will have far fewer options in tackling that scenario than we do today.

The lesson that we learned from Iraq is that we do not invade sovereign states without a plan, so our plan must be formed now. If we are to avoid military action of any kind, we must seek an assurance from the Iranians that they will abide with an agreement.

One of the other great weaknesses of the JCPOA was its failure to address Iran’s blatant arming and funding of its terrorist proxies. That led directly to the conflicts in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and other parts of the world. That was hard to stomach at the time and we need to address it again today.

We cannot allow funds, resources, men, manpower and money to go into furthering conflicts around the world. That would not only provoke greater incivility but provide more impetus for migration and create evermore refugees in the international community. We would be assisting in that objective, and we must stop it. These terror groups are primed to unleash, at any second, horrific violence against civilian targets across the world, all at the behest of their Iranian paymasters.

In her summing up, will the Minister provide justification for why we appear to be compounding the great mistakes of the previous agreement in 2015? Will she assure us that she is making it a priority to tackle this issue? I join colleagues in asking her to consider proscribing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. At the very least, we owe that to the British victims of that organisation.

I have previously welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to

“work night and day to prevent the Iranian regime from ever becoming a nuclear power.”

I hope that she will keep up that commitment, but does the Minister believe that the deal under consideration is truly capable of preventing Iran from getting its hands on the most devastating weapons known to man? In the event of a new JCPOA, can the Minister outline what further steps will be taken to build on what has clearly become a limited and ineffective mechanism?

Time is upon us, and history will judge us for the decisions we make today and on any future agreement. For the safety and security of not only the middle east but the wider world, we must do the right thing. That may be a hard decision, and it may be a difficult process, but failure to do so could ultimately lead to greater conflict.