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MPs Clash With Foreign Office Over Calls To Proscribe IRGC

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali at a praying procession for the coffins of seven IRGC members killed in a strike on the country's consular annex in Damascus (Alamy)

5 min read

Renewed calls from MPs across the political divide for Government to proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) after Israel was attacked by Iranian missiles have been met with resistance from the Foreign Office, which has continued to prioritise a sanctions regime.

Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel overnight on Saturday, 99 per cent of which were intercepted, according to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). 

While Government has not ruled out proscribing the IRGC, its current policy of sanctioning Iran and the IRGC remains in place. In 2023 key financial backers of the IRGC were sanctioned, as well as two of its senior commanders operating in Tehran and Alborz. Trade restrictions on Iran’s drone programme also came into place in December, which impeded the country's ability to sell its drones abroad. 

The IRGC was introduced in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution as an opposition to Iran's military, but there has been concern that it has morphed into an economic and political power, and has strong ties with Iran's Supreme leader. Iran has historically held close ties with Palestinian territories and according to a 2019 US government analysis, Iran provides Hamas, which controls Gaza, and other Palestinian terrorist groups approximately $100 million every year. 

Those advocating for proscription of the IRGC, including a number of senior MPs and officials, are concerned that affiliates of the group are not currently under sufficient scrutiny. Anyone who is affiliated or works for a proscribed group can be handed a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

PoliticsHome understands ministers in Government are willing to defer responsibility for a decision on the IRGC's status to the FCDO, and are concerned of quarrelling about national security in public. Security minister Tom Tugendhat has historically been in favour of proscribing the group, but Foreign Secretary David Cameron, Home Secretary James Cleverly and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are believed to be more reticent, according to The Times.

One former Government adviser argued that proscribing the IRGC would kill any future attempt of international diplomacy with Iran in the future. They claimed it would have made releasing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national who was jailed in 2016 for alleged spying charges, would have been extremely difficult.

“The Prime Minister won’t want to lose diplomatic ties with Iran," said one minister who is critical of the FCDO's current position. "But [the issue] is just a failure to face unpleasant facts in the face.” 

The UK can proscribe an organisation if it is concerned in terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000. Proscription is when an organisation is banned because it commits, promotes or encourages terrorism.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former Tory leader, told PoliticsHome believes the government is making excuses not to proscribe the IRGC, and said it was time that the Foreign Office should do so.

“First, they claim they have influence in Tehran, but being able to make a telephone call to the Iranian Foreign Minister has no bearing on the brutal activities of the IRGC even in the UK where they have been fomenting Islamic extremism. That’s not influence," he said. 

"Second, they claim they act as a ‘back channel’ for the USA. Yet it is the USA that has proscribed the IRGC. As have many other countries including Saudi Arabia. This is a poor excuse.

“After all, the IRGC operates even now in the UK, with impunity as they have not been proscribed. Time to proscribe the IRGC.”

Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, said in the House of Commons on Monday that she believed the UK has known that the IRGC had funded terrorism “for years”. She asked the government whether it was “about time” to put national security first and proscribed the organisation.

Labour has repeatedly committed to proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist organisation if it is elected at the next election.  

Dame Diana Johnson MP, vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), told PoliticsHome the IRGC was "at the heart of Tehran's machinery of terror and oppression” and was responsible for training proxy armies and terrorist groups including Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis.

“The IRGC is also implicated in 25 assassination plots in the UK, including the attempted murder of an Iranian journalist in London last month,” she said.

John Spellar, vice chair of the Defence Committee, and vice-chair of LFI, told PoliticsHome there was strong and broad support in the Common to recognise the nefarious role of the IRGC.

“The government needs to make a decision and I don’t see that they have anything further to hide behind,” he added.

But a number of Tory MPs have also raised concerns over the implications of taking this specific course of action. One minister told PoliticsHome it would be impossible to proscribe the IRGC, as it would essentially mean labelling the Iranian state as a terrorist organisation.

Former defence secretary Ben Wallace told TimesRadio the international community should say “enough is enough” and take a stand against Iran. However, he felt proscribing the IRGC would be purely symbolic and warned against it. 

“People often think proscribing is a magic wand,” he said. “It doesn’t ultimately change anything in the world and it won’t make a difference.”

Sir William Patey, Co-Chair of Labour Middle East Council, and former ambassador to Sudan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, told PoliticsHome the debate over proscribing the IRGC was “frankly” irrelevant.

“The IRGC is a part of the Iranian state. You proscribe organisations which are terrorists organisations to restrict their ability to have bank accounts, to move money, for people to support them, you do all of that for an organisation.

“Do you seize part of the state? Any state can be sanctioned, IRGC can be sanctioned.

“You don't need proscription. It may actually complicate matters, it may make it impossible to have a dialogue with Iran and the IRGC if it is proscribed. It's an irrelevance."

A government spokesperson said the UK government will continue to identify and deter threats from Iran.

“We will continue to take strong action against Iran while they threaten people in the UK and around the world. The UK has sanctioned more than 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in its entirety,” they said.

 

Additional reporting from Zoe Crowther

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