James Cleverly doubles down on refusal to ban IRGC now but will 'keep options open'

The UK Foreign Secretary told the JC he does not consider banning the group to be in Britain’s interests


The foreign Secretary has refused to bow to mounting political pressure ahead of Rosh Hashanah to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation, saying he does not consider such a move to be in Britain’s interests.

Speaking to the JC at the end of a three-day visit to Israel on Wednesday, James Cleverly  also condemned Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas for spreading of “disgusting, antisemitic tropes” by claiming Hitler persecuted Jews because of their “social role” rather than their religion.

Pressed on whether, in light of the UK Government’s decision to declare Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group a terrorist organisation last week, he would also support outlawing the IRGC, Cleverly insisted that “many of the things that people want” from proscription were “actually being achieved by our sanctions regime” that is already in place.  

“We will always keep our options open and we will always act in our country’s best interests,” Cleverly said.

“Any decision we make on proscription or sanctions is always done with the protection of British nationals and British interests at heart.”

Asked about the JC’s recent disclosure that at least eight IRGC commanders have been able to pump extremism into British university student groups via online talks, Cleverly failed to respond.

Proscribing the IRGC would make it a criminal offence in the UK to attend the group’s meetings, display its logo in public or encourage its activities.

Cleverly said he would not “speculate” on whether the policy might change in future, pointing out that any decision of this kind would be taken “across government”, not by the Foreign Office alone.  

His latest refusal to ban the IRGC — a move openly backed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat — came as a senior Tory MP wrote to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, asking him to order proscription immediately.

In his letter, David Davis — who previously served as the Foreign Office minister responsible for intelligence and security, and as a member of the SAS — wrote:

“Iran is one of the UK’s most prominent adversaries on the global stage. But its activities go beyond the diplomatic sphere and into the territory of terror.”

The letter goes on to cite JC reports reavealing IRGC commanders’ talks to UK students, and collaborations between British and Iranian scientists on sophisticated drone technology. It also notes that Tugendhat has confirmed a JC report warning that “Iran has been seeking to compile intelligence on prominent UK-based Jews”.

Davis’s letter says: “All these things add up to a serious risk to the British state and its citizens. The Government rightly proposes to proscribe the Wagner Group.

“If a group which poses no direct or immediate threat to British residents can be proscribed, the case for proscribing the IRGC, which clearly poses such a threat, is overwhelming.”

The Labour Party is already committed to IRGC proscription. Steve McCabe MP, the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said he was “disappointed” by Cleverly’s refusal to alter the government’s policy.

“It’s shocking that despite the overwhelming evidence of the threat the Iranian regime poses to British national security, the government is still unwilling to proscribe the IRGC. It’s well past time that they listen to the Jewish community and Labour in acting against Tehran’s terror army,” McCabe said.

While in Israel, Cleverly denounced Abbas for his “antisemitic” comments, saying such rhetoric hampered the chances of peace. “We condemned these antisemitic remarks unreservedly after they were made, and I have made clear to all my counterparts that rhetoric like this creates further division at a time when we need to see dialogue,” Cleverly said.

Britain, he said, remained convinced that “the two-state solution is the best, perhaps the only route to a genuinely sustainable peace in the region.”

On arriving in Israel on Monday, Cleverly posted a photo on social media of himself meeting Netanyahu, with a comment that Britain and Israel were “united in democracy”.

Cleverly declined to comment on the political crisis engulfing the Jewish state, but confirmed that he had raised the issue in his talks with Netanyahu.

The foreign secretary said: “The UK very much respects the fact that Israel is a long-standing democratic state. Democracy is important. It’s one of the things that underpins UK society, and, of course, underpins Israeli society.

“I discussed the proposed judicial reforms with Prime Minister Netanyahu when we met on Monday. I said how important it is that he strives to gain as broad a coalition of support as possible. But ultimately, constitutional decisions like this are for the democratically elected government of a nation.”

During his visit, Cleverly also spoke with British-born Rabbi Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were killed earlier this year in a Palestinian terror attack on the West Bank, and visited Yad Vashem where he laid a wreath.

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