Iranian influence and threats growing in the UK, says security minister

Hardline regime in Tehran has threatened to kill or kidnap 10 people in Britain this year

Britain's security minister has warned of increased threats to security from Iran. AP
Powered by automated translation

Britain is facing growing interference, threats and influence from state actors including Iran, security minister Tom Tugendhat has warned.

Since 10 Iranian plots were revealed in November more incidents have come to light. Foreign meddling of this nature, he said, poses monumental challenges to freedom of speech in the UK and residents' way of life.

Speaking at London-based think tank Policy Exchange on Tuesday, he said that “acute threats” to national security require an immediate response.

“But it is the strategic threats to our democracy because the actors are part of a systemic campaign over a long period of time to degrade our sovereignty that concern me most,” he added.

“They are threats not just to life — they are threats to our way of life.”

We’ve seen even more out of Iran. This is not and has not yet finished.
Tom Tugendhat

The Conservative MP noted how the “emerging era of state-based threats” poses “a challenge to our future and to our society”.

And he called it particularly worrying that this practice is on an upwards trend.

“It’s not a secret that state-based threats are growing and coming from many different sources as competition intensifies, impacting countries across the world including the United Kingdom and our allies,” he said.

Mr Tugendhat cited examples of how states are increasingly using their powers to exert influence over the UK and other democratic nations.

He cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s “increased militarisation” approach to Taiwan as examples of nations overstepping the mark. Debates at universities in the UK have also been “silenced by voices controlled by Beijing”, he claimed.

The minister also mentioned the 2018 poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The UK government accused two Russian agents of carrying out the attack and urged Moscow to hand them over. The Kremlin denied involvement.

Turning to Iran, the security minister said the regime’s crackdown on anyone it perceives as a threat to its authority had extended to Britain.

“Iran's malign behaviour in the Middle East directly threatens our partners and our interests,” he said.

“They are brutally suppressing courageous people in the streets who are calling for an end to the control of a corrupt and corrupted religious security elite claiming authority from God.

“All of this is clear, much of it has been clear for some time.

“What’s new is that we’re seeing this grow at home.”

Ken McCallum — the head of MI5, the UK’s domestic counter-intelligence and security agency — last month said Iran had been behind 10 potential threats to kidnap or kill British or UK-based people this year.

MPs and peers in the British Parliament were last month sent a letter from speakers advising them to tighten the security of their phones and other devices in light of the increased threat of Iranian cyber attacks.

And Mr Tugendhat warned things could get worse.

“Since Ken McCallum’s speech just a few weeks ago we’ve seen even more out of Iran,” he said. “This is not and has not yet finished.”

Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Wednesday hinted at further sanctions against Tehran after journalists with dual citizenship were sent death threats.

Speaking in the House of Commons, he declined to say there were plans to hit the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with further punitive measures after staff at a TV channel in West London were given round-the-clock armed police protection.

Updated: December 13, 2022, 4:21 PM