The UK government and its allies should form an international coalition to respond in a united manner to Iran’s repression and execution of protesters, a Conservative MP said.
Pressure is building on Rishi Sunak’s administration to step up its punishment of the regime for its hardline response to the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini.
Critics say the sanctions and summons for Iranian diplomats in London do not go far enough to act as an effective deterrent to human right abuses.
The Prime Minister's office has declined to clarify reports suggesting it is considering a plan to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation.
As Tehran shows no signs of backing down in the face of mass anti-government rallies, the debate on how tough a line Britain should take continues.
Conservative MP Bob Blackman will pose a question in the House of Commons on Thursday about the political situation in Iran and the regime’s treatment of demonstrators.
'Iran has taken advantage of disunity in the West'
In an interview with The National, Conservative MP Tim Loughton suggested a streamlined approach between the UK and other Western nations would deal a heavier blow to the regime than individual countries adopting different measures. He said the 2018 US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which unravelled the landmark pact, opened up a vacuum that is proving to be lethal.
Asked if Britain had been robust enough in its response to Iran in recent months, he replied: “No we haven’t … and sanctions probably need to be toughened.
“The trouble is Iran plays out its terrorism through third party players in Yemen with the Houthis and others and we need to have a much better international coalition in challenging Iran. Obviously, that’s been weakened over recent years by the fallout between the Trump administration and other western nations about the sanctions [in response to] the nuclear programme. I think Iran has taken advantage of that disunity and that vacuum.
“So I think we probably need to have a much better international response to how we’re going to deal with Iran and this latest crackdown on human rights.
“The problem is, having been to Iran myself, that life is cheap for the Iranian government. When you are cracking down brutally on people who just want to have a peaceful protest to the extent now that they are hanging protesters shows that they don’t value human life at all. So how do you deal with a regime like that? I think we just need to be rather tougher.
“Even to an extent, Iran was quite happy for dissenters to leave Iran and for the West to pick up the bill of then housing them. Trying to be seen to be tough to completely quash the protests by a regime of fear.”
The MP for East Worthing and Shoreham backed the idea of putting the IRGC on the list of the UK’s designated terrorist entities.
“I am in favour of [a proscription] that characterises them as a terrorist regime,” he said.
Such a change in approach to Iran would put the IRGC in the same category as Islamist extremist groups Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and the Haqqani Network, and UK-based neo-Nazis National Action. It would make it a criminal offence for anyone in Britain to publicly support, belong to or display the flag or log of the Revolutionary Guard.
Some 78 groups have fallen into the category under the Terrorism Act 2000.
Mr Trump’s successor, US President Joe Biden, has worked with other signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to bring the nuclear deal with Iran back to life.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani on Monday said talks were continuing through “relevant channels” at the request of both sides.
But discussions do not appear to be on the cusp of any breakthrough.
Iran has accused the US, UK and other western powers of “inciting riots and supporting terrorists” in the country.
Mr Loughton, a member of the cross-party Home Affairs Committee in the UK parliament, said if the UK was to recognise the IRGC as a terrorist group it may alter the mood at the negotiating table. But he suggested Mr Sunak’s government should not be deterred because nuclear deal talks appear to be “not going anywhere at the moment”.
From the outset of the historic 2015 accord, Israel was the arch-critic of the deal, arguing it paved the way for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons rather than stop the regime.
Steve McCabe, chairman of the Labour Friends of Israel lobby group, is among opposition politicians who have called on the Tory government to step up its response to Iran.
Mr McCabe has called Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi a “mass murderer responsible for the deaths of between 5,000-30,000 people”.
'IRGC belongs in terror hall of infamy'
Jason Brodsky, policy director of the United Against Nuclear Iran advocacy group, told The National Britain would be seen as a leader in western circles if it labelled the IRGC a terror cell. He said such a move would place pressure on the EU, particularly France, to follow suit.
“The very serious Iranian threats against UK nationals — particularly in the media — represent an assault on the free press and the very democratic values that bind the US and the UK together,” he said. “That is why the IRGC belongs in that hall of infamy.”
Mr Brodsky said given that the UK already considers Iran-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organisation, adding the IRGC to the list would “ensure coherence and consistency in its terrorism sanctions architecture”.
France's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had not ruled out the idea of the EU designating the IRGC a terrorist group, a day after Germany said the move would be politically important and make sense.
Ties between Paris and Tehran are frayed as Iran has detained seven French nationals amid chaos in the country.
The EU is discussing a fourth round of sanctions over Tehran's treatment of protesters and also the regime's supply of weapons to Russia. Some member states have called for the bloc to classify the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity, a move which France has so far been reluctant to make.
But following further executions of protesters this week and closer military co-ordination between Tehran and Moscow, the French government has left the door open.
“Given the continuation of this repression, France is working with its European partners on new sanctions' measures, without excluding any,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Anne-Claire Legendre told reporters in a daily briefing when asked whether Paris supported designating the IRGC.
Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Monday said that a new round of sanctions would not be enough.
“Listing the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation is politically important and makes sense,” she tweeted, adding that legal hurdles still needed to cleared before it could be done.