UK majority believes Iran's nuclear programme is a threat to the world

A survey carried out by Deltapoll for The National shows 56% fear Tehran's atomic ambitions

The UN's nuclear watchdog said this month Iran was the only non-nuclear armed country to enrich uranium to 60 per cent purity. AFP
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More than half of people in Britain believe Iran’s nuclear programme poses a threat to the world, The National can reveal.

A survey conducted by Deltapoll shows that the majority of Britons fear that Tehran is moving ever closer to developing weapons of mass destruction.

Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief as part of a deal with global powers in 2015, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but in 2018 Donald Trump, at the time the US president, pulled Washington out of the agreement. Iran has since increased efforts to enrich uranium.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this month that Iran was the only country without a nuclear weapon that was enriching uranium to 60 per cent purity. In March the UN agency reported that uranium particles enriched to 84 per cent had been found at the Fordow plant in the country.

The Deltapoll survey about Britain's place in the world asked Britons which questions on Iran came closest to their view.

The poll showed that 56 per cent believe Iran’s nuclear ambitions represent a threat to the world, including the UK.

Meanwhile, 11 per cent believe Iran’s nuclear programme represents a threat to certain countries but not the UK and 8 per cent do not believe it represents a threat at all.

Kasra Aarabi, the UK director of United Against a Nuclear Iran, told The National: “The polling explicitly underlines that the majority of Brits rightly see the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme as a threat to the world, not least the UK.”

Recent months have seen allegations of death threats to staff of opposition news channel Iran International TV, based in the UK, amid reports Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is increasing activities in Britain.

It has also been reported that British authorities consider the IRGC to be the greatest threat to national security.

Mr Aarabi said the UK government’s failure to impose “consequences” on Tehran for its activities on British soil has led Iran to believe “it can have its cake and eat it”.

“We can see that in the past 12 months the UK has been the chosen destination for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ terrorist activity, as well as efforts to spread home-grown extremism and radicalisation on British soil.

“It can get away with its escalations, including with its nuclear programme, without fearing consequences.

“That is extremely dangerous, because looking at the nuclear programme, they are enriching uranium to 60 per cent en masse and not co-operating with the International Atomic Energy Agency. That itself underlines why the British people see this as a threat to their national security.

“The UK Parliament has long been calling for a new and more robust approach towards Iran. This new polling suggests the British people are too,” Mr Aarabi said.

Alicia Kearns, the chairwoman of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee, called the poll's findings “unsurprising”.

Ms Kearns said a “majority of the public share a deep unease about the Iranian regime’s nuclear programme” and that the poll “shows that the status quo is not good enough”.

“The regime continues to violate commitments agreed under the JCPOA in terms of escalating uranium enrichment, and we must seriously consider whether snapback sanctions should be imposed,” she said.

But Neil Quilliam, from the foreign policy think tank Chatham House, told The National he believed the Deltapoll findings more reflected the UK public's revulsion at Iran's hostage-taking, particularly the detention of British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“I don't think that many Britons understand the dynamics of the JCPOA beyond that the US pulled out of it, so I think it's more to do with hostage-taking,” said Dr Quilliam, an associate fellow of Chatham House's Middle East and North Africa programme.

“I don't think that the nuclear issue features massively in our daily lives. I think the plight of British citizens such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been the main issue.”

He also said there was a “very limited audience” of people who would be following Iranian activity in Britain.

In other findings, the poll results showed:

  • The British public sees opportunities for the Middle East to forge closer links with the UK in green energy, technology and sport, with 47 per cent supporting UAE investment in Britain's energy sector, while 23 per cent oppose it.
  • UK voters back Keir Starmer over Rishi Sunak on foreign policy, with 40 per cent believing that the Leader of the Opposition would do a better job than the Prime Minister at representing the country on the world stage.
  • Rishi Sunak is making wrong moves in a host of policy areas, including the economy (62 per cent), cost of living crisis (68 per cent), making the most of Brexit (53 per cent), immigration (67 per cent) and crime (54 per cent).
  • The British government has majority support for its move to revise plans for achieving net zero by 2050
  • A narrow majority (51 per cent) do not trust US President Joe Biden to be the leader of the free world. When it comes to former president and current Republican front-runner Donald Trump, nearly seven in ten (68 per cent) believe he would do a bad job if re-elected, compared with 23 per cent who believe he would do a good job.
  • Almost half (45 per cent) believe the British government has done as much as can reasonably be expected to help resolve the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.
  • The poll also asked people in Britain about conflicts in Sudan and Yemen, to which the UK has historical ties. Just 29 per cent of people agreed that the UK has an obligation to help end the fighting in those countries, while 46 per cent said Britain has no obligation regardless of history.

This week the US State Department criticised Iran for barring IAEA inspectors from the country, hindering the UN nuclear watchdog's oversight of its atomic activities.

Attempts to revive the nuclear deal have failed and Britain, France and Germany announced this month they would extend sanctions on Iran that were due to expire in October under the original agreement.

Updated: September 29, 2023, 10:15 AM