Wendy Morton – 2021 Statement on Sanctions on Belarus

The statement made by Wendy Morton, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, in the House of Commons on 4 November 2021.

I beg to move,

That the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 (SI, 2021, No. 1146), dated 11 October, a copy of which was laid before this House on 14 October, be approved.

The instrument before us was laid on 14 October under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, also known as the Sanctions Act. It amends the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to introduce new measures in the financial, trade and aviation sectors. The regulations that we are debating today revoke and replace the Belarus sanctions regulations laid in August 2021, which contained an error that had the effect of deleting a prohibition on the transfer of restrictive technology to Belarus—that is, military and interception or monitoring technology and technology used for internal repression. These regulations correct that error. I can assure hon. and right hon. Members that there was no continuity gap between the effects of the two sets of regulations.

The Government, along with international partners, decided to increase targeted sanctions because the situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate. On numerous occasions, Lukashenko and his regime have violated democratic principles and the rule of law and violently oppressed civil society, democratic opposition leaders and independent media. This includes the forced diversion of Ryanair flight FR4978 on 23 May in order to arrest the journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega. Lukashenko sent in a MiG fighter jet to force the Ryanair plane to land, endangering not only Protasevich and Sapega but everyone else on board. This also showed a flagrant disregard for international aviation law. The couple remain in the custody of the Belarusian authorities. The UK Government reiterate their call on the Belarusian regime to release them and to release all those held on political grounds. The regime has enforced the arbitrary detention of more than 35,000 people and imprisoned more than 800 people on political charges. The United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe have recorded many credible reports of physical mistreatment, including torture, by the penal and security forces in Belarus.

Opposition figures have been harassed and forcefully expelled, and this year Belarus introduced new legislation to further suppress media freedoms and peaceful assembly. The UK supports all those working for a more democratic future for Belarus. We were delighted to welcome Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Belarusian democratic opposition, to the UK on 3 August. I was pleased to be able to meet Ms Tsikhanouskaya during her visit, as did the Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary, and we reiterated our support. Ms Tsikhanouskaya emphasised the need for further sanctions on the Belarusian regime and commended the UK for taking action.

This instrument enshrines in law our increased sanctions measures on the Belarusian regime, showing that we stand with the people of Belarus. Our sanctions are carefully targeted to build pressure on Lukashenko, state institutions, and those around him while minimising any unintended consequences for the ordinary of people of Belarus who are suffering under authoritarian rule. The measures that it introduces prevent any UK business from trading goods and services with Belarus in sectors that are key sources of revenue for the Lukashenko regime. They limit the regime’s access to items that could enable the internal repression of the Belarusian population, including potash, petroleum products, and interception and monitoring goods and technology. They also cover goods used in cigarette manufacturing, dual-use goods, and technology for military use. We have imposed a prohibition on technical assistance to aircraft where this would benefit persons designated for that purpose. This ensures that UK companies cannot provide services in relation to President Lukashenko’s fleet of luxury aircraft.

Financial measures prohibit dealing with transferable securities and money market instruments issued by the Belarusian state and public bodies, as well as those issued by state-owned banks and the provision of loans. This puts additional pressure on the Belarusian regime, including by preventing future Belarusian Government bonds from being listed on the London stock exchange. This comprehensive response also includes prohibitions on the provision of insurance and reinsurance to Belarusian state bodies, and prohibits the export of biathlon rifles by removing a licensing ground under the arms embargo.

The aviation measures prohibit Belarusian air carriers from overflying or landing in the UK, and that continues the temporary measures we put in place after the events of 23 May. Finally, the measures also give us the power to designate persons for providing support for or obtaining an economic benefit from the Government of Belarus. Since those measures came into force, we have made a further designation under the Belarus sanctions regime under this criterion. UK sanctions action, taken together with our allies, aims to encourage the Belarusian regime to respect democratic principles and institutions, the separation of powers and the rule of law in Belarus. The sanctions also aim to discourage the regime from actions, policies or activities that repress civil society in Belarus and to encourage it to comply with international human rights law.

We regularly review our sanctions and would consider lifting them if we saw significant progress. However, in the case of Belarus, we have seen no progress and the situation continues to deteriorate. Sanctions are most effective when implemented in co-ordination with international partners, and our measures were co-ordinated in June with the EU, the US and Canada, and we will continue to work closely with them on Belarus. Similarly, actions work best when combined with other diplomatic and economic measures, and the UK has assisted independent media and civil society organisations in Belarus, which continue to face unparalleled levels of pressure from the regime. By the end of this financial year, our programme of support to Belarus will have almost tripled since 2019.

The UK unequivocally condemns the appalling campaign of repression waged by the Belarusian regime against the rights and freedoms of the Belarusian people. The regime has oppressed civil society, rejected democratic principles and violated the rule of law. The regulations expand our sanctions in response to the situation on the ground. They demonstrate that we will not accept such egregious violations of human rights. They enable us to stand with our international partners and, most importantly, with the people of Belarus in working towards a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future. I welcome the opportunity to hear the views of Members on the regulations, and I commend them to the House.