For some years now, we have been having a debate in this country and among our allies about the influence of China and this vexed, significant issue of debt diplomacy.
This is an issue. If we look at the countries that did not support the UN resolution on Russia, we see that, on average, they owe five times more debt to China than the countries that supported the resolution.
The key issue now is that the debt in many of these countries and others is about to fall over and the G20 common framework process, which we have held up as the great saviour of debt sustainability, has been so successful that precisely zero countries have engaged in it. It ain’t working and we need a different approach.
We could be restructuring developing country debt using both IMF and World Bank resources. The World Bank has just committed $170 billion to an emergency programme that we could be using to restructure the debt of vulnerable countries around the world and rich countries could be pooling their new Special Drawing Rights to help.
The big point is this: if we do not want to live in a world where China is the lender of last resort to countries around the world, then lets use the Bretton Woods institutions that we set up in 1944.
In the midst of a big war, in 1941, the Atlantic charter was signed, and its story is extraordinary. Our Prime Minister at the time, Mr Churchill, was on the other side of the Atlantic with President Roosevelt and the draft of the charter was sent to Downing Street. Clement Attlee was in the Chair and he convened the Cabinet at two o’clock in the morning in order to review the draft and make one vital change. He added article 5, which said that one of our war aims would be that the victors would
“desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security”.
Three years later, at Bretton Woods, President Roosevelt, welcomed delegates from 44 countries from around the world with these words:
“the economic health of every country is a proper matter of concern to all its neighbors, near and distant.”
As we begin to think about what the new world looks like, those are wise words to guide us.
Remarks to OECD Parliamentary Network, Saeima of the Republic of Latvia
Thanks you much, Mr. Chairman for that kind introduction.
It’s great honour and privilege to be here on the International Day of the Parliamentarian here in this magnificent chamber.
It is today such a powerful symbol of your democracy, here beneath your great message emblazoned on the wall above us, that the sovereignty of this country lies well and truly with the people.
I just want to confine my remarks to a few today.
It is impossible for us to have this discussion in this chamber and in this country just 1000 miles from the conflict in the Ukraine without reflecting on the weaponization by our enemies of everything from food, to energy, to data to information.
That’s why I congratulate you on bringing this debate forward today because it is top of the agenda for democrats around the world.
What well we have seen in recent months is a lesson in how bad actors will seek to use data, information, and cyber skills for bad purposes.
When we look at bad actors like Russia, we see not just a conflict but a case study in how people will fight future wars on forward five different fronts.
Yes, of course, there will be the kinetic front, but there will also be the cyber front. There will be economic warfare. There will be political warfare, and there will be information warfare.
And as any one of those five fronts grows weak, then bad people will just step up their work on one of the other fronts.
That’s why the information battlespace is at the core of the debate.
Now, here in the Baltics, you have been expert for some years because you have been on the front line for so many years in combating disinformation.
We know that countries like Russia cannot generate positive narratives of their own.
So they will always seek to divide and rule. They will always seek to use proactive information conflicts, to try and exploit our great strength, which is our diversity and our discussion and turn that into a weakness.
So they will always find two sides of an argument and seek to fuel the rage on both sides in order to generate division and conflict in our countries.
There will be others that now seek to take this kind of playbook to a new level.
There will be countries that seek to develop AI powered systems. To build mass surveillance systems globally, and to use in the future as a weapon of war.
That’s why we now all have to be on our guard against the exfiltration of technology and data around the world.
Because we know bad actors are building the giant datasets needed to train the algorithms, which will be tools of warfare in the future.
So we cannot be innocents abroad in a world that is an innocent.
In the UK Parliament, there a five key issues in our debates.
1. The first is about investment. We do not invest as much as the bad players in strategic communication.
Yesterday in Madrid, the NATO conference we agreed for NATO members a new concept of operations that puts far far more investment into strategic communications that powerfully sets out the case for good. But this is still too little and too late.
2. Second, we have to be far smarter about the way that we use intelligence and analysis.
Both the United States and the United Kingdom took a very different approach that the way that we share proactively intelligence about for example, Russia’s bad intentions, putting it into the public domain, so that people are able to see and judge for themselves, what countries like Russia are up to.
But you know, the truth is that we still have bad frameworks for sharing intelligence between ourselves and coming to wise decisions about what needs to go into the public domain. What is the information and intelligence that we should be sharing more proactively with the people that we represent?
3. The third area is obviously education. I represent one of the most diverse communities in my country. When I was researching ISIS driven extremism five or six years ago, I was horrified by what I was seeing the kind of propaganda videos that look like they had the production values of a pop video or a video game like Call of Duty.
These were very powerful. Recruiting sergeants, for young people.
That’s why our classrooms are now the frontline of our defence against misinformation.
So we need to share ideas for how we teach our children to be good interrogators of what they see is part of how we train our young people to be good citizens and democrats for the future.
4. Fourth is obviously then in the field of regulation.
All of us have been having this debate in our different Parliament’s for a long time now, but we have still got to get better at how we regulate content online without jeopardising that fundamental right of free speech.
We’ve got to be all of us far smarter about how we regulate the money that comes into our politics and is used to promote bad and divisive messages.
5. And then the final point, Chairman, is really to encourage meetings and conferences and discussions like this because what all of us now need are not just rules, but tools.
We need to enshrine good ideas like a digital Bill of Rights. When I think about the charters of rights we’ve had in our country like the Magna Carta, I notice it was very good about how to police fish weirs. It didn’t say much about data privacy.
We need to keep up the debate about how we enshrine a digital Bill of Rights for our citizens. And part and parcel of that has got to be how we regulate and protect in the field of artificial intelligence. We cannot have old injustice being translated into new injustice through of algorithms, but equally we cannot hand those who wishes ill the tools to do us that harm by letting them simply steal our data and technology.
So this has been a really welcome opportunity for us to get together at a time to talk about some of the ideas and some of the debates that we all share. I’m really looking forward to the discussion ahead.
Boris Johnson’s law breaking is about to cost us a fortune
As bunkers go, it couldn’t be nicer. The British ambassador’s Brussels’ home is a large and elegant terraced townhouse on the Rue Ducale, just across the street from the Parc Royal, once the hunting ground of the Dukes of Brabant. But unless something changes fast, the neoclassical mansion with its staterooms hung with exquisite tapestries is about become the command centre for Britain’s first trade war with Europe since the Cod Wars of 1975.
Boris Johnson’s decision to upend international law and ram through Parliament new laws to override the very Brexit deal he sought, agreed and sold to the British people has nuked what was left of his reputation in Brussels. ‘How can we believe such a man?’ despairs one very senior EU diplomat. ‘What’s the point of negotiating with someone who’s promise simply isn’t worth the paper it’s written on?’.
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which had its second reading in a rowdy House of Commons this week, has its roots in the deep divides of Northern Ireland and the historic Good Friday Agreement secured by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern to end one of the longest civil conflicts in Europe.
Amongst its core commitments was the pledge never to restore a ‘hard border’ of checkpoints along the hundreds of miles of winding roads and emerald green fields that separate Northern Ireland and Ireland. But, Brexit left a problem: how to secure an essentially invisible customs check between the two countries? It wasn’t and isn’t possible. And so the answer in the Brexit deal was to basically move the checks from north-south between Ireland and Northern Ireland – and put them east-west, through the Irish sea.
But that created serious concern for Northern Ireland’s Unionist community which couldn’t countenence division from mainland Great Britain. And after May’s election, the DUP – which holds 25 seats – are simply refusing to participate in the formation of a northern Irish government until the Protocol is fundamentally reworked. And that in turn means a new Northern Irish government cannot form because the Good Friday Agreement requires participation of both Protestant and Catholic communities in any administration.
Of course, Mr Johnson as a fundamentally dishonest man was fundamentally dishonest about what the Brexit deal meant for Northern Ireland. And the DUP, like so many of the people in Boris Johnson’s life, was foolish enough to believe him. But now the chickens have come home to roost. The UK needs power sharing to work in Northern Ireland; we can’t countenence a return to violence and so the customs checks must change to end the DUP’s strike on serving in power.
But rather than persist in the sort of patient, creative diplomacy that got the Good Friday Agreement secured in the first place, Mr Johnson has chosen drama before duty and proposed a law that simply overrides the existing international treaty with Europe. If he persists, there’s going to be a trade war.
This is a conflict Britain can ill afford. With the worst forecast growth of any G7 country next year and sky high inflation, the last thing we need is battle with our nearest neighbours who happen to buy more of our exports than anyone else. The UK business community in Brussels is in utter despair. The costs to them are not only lost sales but more importantly the end of progress on negotiating regulations under the rather optimistically entitled Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which considerably adds to business risk. Worse may be still to come.
The EU has already prepared a secret set of highly targeted sanctions designed to hurt constituencies on which Tory support now rests – a little like the sanctions on Harley Davidson designed to punish Trump.
Now there are some who point to the current record level of UK exports to the EU with an airy wave and declare ‘that all is in fact well’. But today’s UK exports to Europe are flattered by huge re-exports of fuel as Europe weans itself off Russian oil and gas. It’s a short term sugar rush. In fact, underlying trade is at best flat at a time when Britain’s trade deficit with the world continues to get worse.
In all wars, both sides miscalculate. In Brussels, there’s far too much wishful thinking that the NI Protocol Bill will get stuck in the Commons or that Boris Johnson might soon fall (and so why make concessions now?) or that an election might be soon. Meanwhile, in the House of Commons there is very little understanding of just far Britain’s reputation has now collapsed. And the tragedy of it all is that the two sides are not a million miles apart.
The EU’S Vice President Sefcovic, who I met in the Commission’s vast Berlaymont headquarters, is not seeking some dogmatic Procrustean imposition of EU red tape. He’s says he’s willing to be creative and believes there is still time to move in a better direction.
From what I heard over two days, it seemed to me
1. On the core issue of customs there is a ‘landing zone’ for a deal around minimising the data that’s collected and shared but which gives the EU fast enough access to data which they can put through their risk management tools to identify trucks or crates they’d like British customs officials to pull over for inspection.
2. The EU’s idea for an Express Lane (for goods only sold in Northern Ireland) is pretty close to the Government’s Green Lane – which the Government’s own policy paper says would only be open to ‘trusted traders’. The EU talks the language of’bare minimum’ checks which might mean ‘a couple of trucks a day’ being pulled out for the full treatment.
3. Equally, on agriculture it seems pretty straightforward to agree a biosecurity assurance framework which allows ‘trusted traders’ to move back and forth albeit with full checks for live animals. As it happens the UK has long had lots of checks like this anyway from the days of foot and mouth disease.
4. And on state aid, VAT and court rulings, the negotiators closest to the coal face are confident that with trust and good will on both sides, a deal could be done.
But that’s that’s the problem.
Between them, David Frost, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson have destroyed what trust there was. Nor has Johnson made it a personal mission to put in the hard yards and kinetic energy needed to get a deal. Liz Truss is regarded as ruthlessly manufacturing a row to bolster her own leadership credentials. Despite the hardworking UK team, there is no heavyweight UK ‘sherpa’ like Kim Darroch with a hotline to the PM or a narrative to the deal as a sort of Good Friday Agreement Preservation evolution of existing arrangements or indeed much effort to creatively format a bigger deal. ‘Where is our Europe strategy?’ asked one UK civil servant, ‘Where is the overall framework for what we want to get out of this?’ The answer is, there isn’t one.
The EU isn’t looking for EU victories. They’ve accepted they ‘might need to suffer defeat in the British tabloids’. After all there is Brexit exhaustion in Brussels too. They want this irritant out the way. They too want ‘Brexit done’. They have other fish to fry. The media view is that ‘there are more concessions up their (EU) sleeves’ but these won’t be revealed while the Bill is still live. The EU is not going to negotiate when the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is rolling through committee. ‘Why should we negotiate with ‘a gun on the table’ said one diplomat. ‘And why should we accept the UK saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’?’
EU politicians don’t want a trade war but are ready for it. There will be no peeling off of the Balts and Poles. It’s a thoroughly united block. And for all the cheers from Tory benches the truth is that without a resolution, Johnson’s tedious tactical gambit will prove a strategic defeat. Economically, Britain as a small nation needs strong tech and trade partnerships with our giant neighbours across the narrow channel and the wide Atlantic. Europe is pouring billions into its Horizon science programme. The US is pouring hundreds of billions into industrial subsidies and talking generously of new ‘friendshoring deals’ with its allies. But Britain’s behaviour is so angry-making we risk shut out from Horizon while American politicians from Speaker Pelosi down have made it perfectly clear they’ll be no deals with Britain until a ‘durable way forward’ is found for the Northern Irish border.
Since time immemorial all trade has rested on trust. A handshake can mean so much more than a contract. But the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill is the proverbial two fingers to Brussels. And for that we will pay a price.
The National Security Bill got a fairly warm welcome when it came to second reading.
But it’s missing one crucial component: measures to keep our tech regulation in lockstep with our allies. So it the interests of building a bit of cross-party unity about the issue, here’s a draft amendment:
Companies subject to controls: Reporting
To move the following Clause—
(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, and every twelve months thereafter, the Secretary of State must lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on companies subject to relevant controls.
(2) A company is subject to relevant controls for the purpose of subsection (1), where—
(a) condition A, and
(b) either condition B or condition C are met.
(3) Condition A is that a public authority in the United States of America or the European Union, or both, has imposed on the company either—
(a) controls on its raising of finance,
(b) controls on its investing in or trading in financial instruments,
(c) restrictions on its exports,
(d) restrictions on its imports,
(e) controls on its export of data,
(f) revocation of its trading licenses, or
(g) sanctions against its board directors.
(4) Condition B is that the public authority imposed the applicable controls in subsection (3) in response to conductof the company which the public authority believed represented, or was capable of representing, a threat to the national security of the United States of America or European Union (as applicable).
(5) Condition C is that the imposition of applicable controls in subsection (3) has not been attributed by the public authorityto conduct set out in subsection (4), but that the Secretary of State believes, or has reasonable basis to believe, that the company has engaged in conduct which represents, or is capable of representing, a threat to the national security of the United Kingdom.
(6) A report under this section must set out what controls,restrictions or other sanctions UK public authorities haveimposed on each of the companies listed in the report.
As the Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine this week, we had a debate in Parliament about the shape of things to come. Here’s my speech for those who fancy a bit of a long read
It is clear from today’s events that we live no longer in an era of change but in a change of era. That has three significant implications for our strategy on Russia and China.
The three shifts entail a change in worldview, they require a shift in our defensive strategy and third, a renaissance in creative diplomatic strategy whereby, quite simply, we seek to build a new rules-based order for the new silk road.
Let me start with the new worldview that is going to be needed. I generally try to avoid a Manichean view of the world as divided into black and white, because the world is more complicated than that. But the truth is that, from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, we are now witness to the creation of an enormous kleptosphere. Inside the borders of that kleptosphere, the merciless logic is that might is right: in the old phrase, the ‘strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. We have to be the guardians of what we might call the “kanonosphere”—the space around the world where there are rules, where there is the rule of law, where there is justice.
Just as we once rid the world of piracy and slave trading, we now have to be the indispensable nation that leads the charge against economic crime, no matter where that crime is perpetrated. We have to be the guardians of the new rules-based order for this simple reason: if we think the scale of global corruption today is bad, we must think for a moment about the world that is to come.
The World Bank estimates that the value of natural resources in countries with bad corruption scores is $65 trillion. Imagine the world of the future, in which those natural resources are extracted and the profits go to some of the worst people on earth. That is why there is now an urgency for a very different kind of philosophy to guide our foreign policy. We have to be the place, the country, the leader that seeks a world of not simply free trade but clean trade. That must be the defining features of our foreign policy for the years to come.
The second dimension is that we obviously need new defences.
We in this House have to confront the reality that our strategy of deterrence has failed. Most of us who spoke in the debate on the economic sanctions were profoundly disappointed with the weakness of the package proposed. Frankly, many of us feel that the Prime Minister was a little late to the party. “Too little, too late” will be written on his political gravestone, I fear. None the less, we must now accept that the threat of sanctions has failed and we must now offer President Putin the iron fist. That has to take aim at Russia’s key strategic weakness, which is its 20 km border.
We must now envisage a different security environment along this cold border. That means proactive talks with Finland and Sweden about how they partner with NATO; it means further reinforcing our presence in the Baltics; it means new conversations at the other end of the border, in Georgia; it means re-thinking how we equip those fighting the insurgencies in places such as South Ossetia and Transnistria; and it means a completely different approach to the Balkans, where we must accelerate the path to NATO membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We now have to start to roll NATO forward in strength across the border, so that President Putin’s tactical advance results in what is ultimately a strategic defeat. I am afraid part and parcel of that is that we will have to consider the deployment of intermediate ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe. The truth is that the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty broke down because President Putin was breaking the rules and deploying SSC-8 missiles, which were prohibited by that treaty. Russia has built very effective anti-access and area-denial systems that safeguard it against air and naval attack. A defence against ground-launched cruise missiles is much more difficult. The Secretary-General of NATO has been right to rule out arming those missiles with nuclear warheads, but we must now think more aggressively about our defence posture, given the security threat President Putin now poses to this great homeland of Europe.
My final point is that it is time for a renaissance in British grand strategy. This is not an original point of mine but something that people such as Lord Ricketts have been writing about for some time. If we look back over history, we see so many examples of how, whenever Russian and Chinese leaders feel strong at home, they advance into the periphery—into the borderland. That was true under Tsar Nicholas and under the Qing empire, and it is true today. That means that a corridor of chaos is potentially going to emerge from the Baltic to Ukraine, down through Syria and Iran, through Kashmir, into Myanmar, into North Korea and into the South China sea.
We have not only to think creatively and imaginatively about how we provide a security environment for that space but to think anew about creating a Marshall plan for that space, just as we did in Europe after world war two. Then, we created the OECD to foster Europe’s economic development; we now need to do the same for the silk road. The passage to India, to the Pacific and beyond now needs a British-led institution that acts imaginatively at how we create new infrastructure. China will be spending something like $1.5 trillion on infrastructure across this great border zone. What are we spending? We do not know, but we could be using our skills to identify the infrastructure priorities in places such as Pakistan. We could be thinking imaginatively about how we mobilise infrastructure finance. London has been the home of infrastructure finance since we defeated Napoleon and Nathan Rothschild created the international bond market in London.
We have the wherewithal to mobilise sovereign wealth funds, which are growing radically and quickly in places such as the Gulf, and deploying that money in good strong contracts, with good strong standards, that avoid the kind of mistakes that we saw in the early days of the Qatari world cup stadium-building programme. We could be a force for good in building infrastructure, in financing infrastructure, and in making sure that there are good rules around that.
We could be thinking imaginatively about how we create free trade across this zone. We could be thinking imaginatively about how we settle disputes. We could be thinking imaginatively about the legal services and the consulting services that we offer out of London into this space. The reality is that, by 2050, the economies of the new silk road will be worth two and a half times the value of the economies on the Atlantic seaboard. The economic centre of gravity is moving east. This is possibly where I differ from the hon. Member for Isle of Wight. In my view, we need to think imaginatively about offering the welcoming hand of trade as well as offering a strong shield and a strong sword.
I will finish with a quote from Dean Acheson, the US Secretary of State after world war two, who famously boasted that he was present at the creation. He warned us that
“the future comes one day at a time.”
We now do not have a single day to waste. That is why this debate is so very important.
Why isn’t Britain actually seizing the yachts, jets, mansions – or football clubs of Putin’s mates, when EU countries are getting much tougher?
Already we’ve seen news that Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov’s 512-foot yacht was seized by German authorities in Hamburg. But the UK seems to be pulling it’s punches – allowing Roman Abromovich for example, the time and space to sell a £3 billion football club.
So what’s going on?
Basically our rules differentiate between an asset freeze and sequestration of assets.
A UK asset freeze prohibits those in possession or control of the designated person’s economic resources to ‘deal’ with them, make them ‘available’ to the designated person, or make them ‘available for the benefit’ of the designated person.
But, ‘dealing with economic resources’ generally means using them to obtain funds, goods, or services in any way.
Crucially, however the regulations say in para 3.1.3 that, “the everyday use by a designated person of their own economic resources for personal consumption is not prohibited.”
So: these conditions don’t bar the designated person from making use of assets – staying in a property, travelling in a vehicle, sailing around, flying around or lounging around in the Director’s box.
Where the financial sanction is an asset freeze, it is generally prohibited to:
• deal with the frozen funds or economic resources, belonging to or owned, held or controlled by a designated person
• make funds or economic resources available, directly or indirectly, to, or for the benefit of, a designated person
• engage in actions that, directly or indirectly, circumvent the financial sanctions prohibitions.
The funds and economic resources are to be frozen immediately by the person in possession or control of them.
An asset freeze does not involve a change in ownership of the frozen funds or economic resources, nor are they confiscated or transferred to OFSI for safekeeping.
3.1.2 What must you do?
If you know or have ‘reasonable cause to suspect’ that you are in possession or control of, or are otherwise dealing with, the funds or economic resources of a designated person you must:
• freeze them
• not deal with them or make them available to, or for the benefit of, the designated person, unless:
– there is an exception in the legislation that you can rely on; or
– you have a licence from OFSI
• report them to OFSI …
Reasonable cause to suspect refers to an objective test that asks whether there were factual circumstances from which an honest and reasonable person should have inferred knowledge or formed the suspicion. …
3.1.3 Asset freezing terminology
Funds generally means financial assets and benefits of every kind, including but not limited to:
• cash, cheques, claims on money, drafts, money orders and other payment instruments
• deposits with financial institutions or other entities, balances on accounts, debts and debt obligations
• publicly- and privately-traded securities and debt instruments, including stocks and shares, certificates representing securities, bonds, notes, warrants, debentures and derivatives contracts
• interest, dividends or other income on or value accruing from or generated by assets
• credit, right of set-off, guarantees, performance bonds or other financial commitments
• letters of credit, bills of lading, bills of sale
• documents showing evidence of an interest in funds or financial resources
• any other instrument of export financing.
Economic resources generally means assets of every kind – tangible or intangible, movable or immovable – which are not funds, but may be used to obtain funds, goods or services. This includes but is not limited to:
• precious metals or stones
Goods generally means items, materials and equipment.
Crypto assets – Statutory definitions of “funds” and “economic resources” are wide, as referenced above.
Crypto assets are considered to be covered by these definitions and are therefore caught by the financial sanctions restrictions.
Dealing with funds generally means moving, transferring, altering, using, accessing, or otherwise dealing with them in any way which would result in any change to their volume, amount, location, ownership, possession, character, destination or other change that would enable the funds to be used, including portfolio management.
Dealing with economic resources generally means using the economic resources to obtain funds, goods, or services in any way, including, but not limited to, by selling, hiring or mortgaging them.
Making available funds or economic resources, directly or indirectly, to a designated person – If funds are made available (directly or indirectly) to a designated person, or economic resources are made available (directly or indirectly) that would likely be exchanged, or used in exchange, for funds, goods, or services, this may constitute a criminal offence.
Making available funds or economic resources for the benefit of a designated person – If funds or economic resources are made available for the benefit of a designated person and they obtain, or are able to obtain, a ‘significant financial benefit’, this may constitute a criminal offence. In this case, ‘financial benefit’ includes the discharge, in whole or in part, of a financial obligation for which the designated person is wholly or partly responsible.
So: the regime sets conditions on individuals and legal entities that have control or possession of that person’s assets, but it does not appear that this would restrict the person simply making use of them. As Russian war crime multiply, surely this has now got to change. Not least to pay for reparations.
Quite rightly there’s a debate about how we kick European dependence on Russian gas. But what about the London’s dependence on the Russian gravy train? So much Russian loot is laundered through London that around the world our capital is known as Londongrad. So how did the government fail so badly to get a grip of Russian economic crime?
Problem No. 1 is the gaping hole where a plan for tackling economic crime should be. We know the scale of the problem because the National Crime Agency has told us. It says that the scale of economic crime is some £100 billion a year in money laundering and £190 billion lost to fraud—a total of £290 billion. That is a significant chunk of our nation’s GDP, so this is not an insignificant problem: it is a monumental problem over which the Government are presiding. Secondly, the reputational damage is so serious that think-tanks in Washington are writing reports saying things like:
“uprooting Kremlin-linked oligarchs will be a challenge given the close ties between Russian money and the United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative Party”.
How on earth has the Conservative party got itself into this mess?
Well, it is quite a story. I am going to rattle through the 10 key steps that have led the Government to get into this mess.
First, they abolished the Minister in charge of economic crime. When Damian Hinds was was appointed he was given the title of Minister for Security and Borders, whereas his predecessor was known as the Minister for Security and Economic Crime. So the Government are taking economic crime so seriously that they deleted it from the title of the Minister.
Secondly, the Government have now tasked not one, not two but 12 different agencies with tackling the problem of economic crime without going to the trouble of appointing someone to be in charge of these 12 different agencies so as to lead the charge.
Thirdly, they have neglected to implement 60% of the measures in their own economic crime plan. Going through the list of measures rated “red” by the Royal United Services Institute, some of them are pretty significant, such as making sure that the police get serious about tackling fraud and economic crime.
Fourth, the Government have starved the National Crime Agency of so many resources that its director general says that it will not take on cases where it thinks the legal costs will be too high.
Fifth, they have failed to equip Companies House with the powers to check information sent in by people setting up shell companies. According to Parliamentary answers to me, there are now 11,000 companies on the register that still have not filed returns on who is the person with significant control, yet how many prosecutions have we had? One hundred and nineteen. It is pathetic; it is lamentable.
Sixth, they have failed to bring forward a register of beneficial ownership of property, like the multi-million-pound mansions in Westminster. How we target sanctions at the right people if we don’t know who owns what?
Seventh, they have failed to use our unique role in the global financial economy to light up where bad actors are doing bad things. SWIFT, the financial messaging system, is based in the UK. We are the global hub, along with New York, of financial settlement worldwide. We could be using the panorama of information to which we have access to light up bad people, to create intelligence packages and then to ensure that those people are pursued to the ends of the earth.
Eighth, we have failed to stop our courts being used as arenas to silence journalists such as Catherine Belton and Tom Burgis, who are pursuing bad and corrupt companies. Thank God for HarperCollins and Arabella Pike because, frankly, without such brave publishing houses, we would not have the truth brought into the public domain.
Ninth, we have the Government’s failure to introduce a foreign agents registration Act, despite the fact that it works in America and Australia.
Tenth, to cap it all, they have failed to offer us any kind of hard timetable for the economic crime Bill, which is an omission so serious that they lost their own Minister to it in the House of Lords.
Those 10 elements—this 10-step decent into chaos—is why we now have a situation where the grand total of unexplained wealth orders targeted against oligarchs is zero. Apart from the Magnitsky sanctions, which came from a list of the crimes handed to us in 2007, we have not proposed any sanctions for economic crime against Russian-born individuals since 2014.
Some might say that is benign neglect; others might say it is malign neglect; and others might say that the Conservative party has been paid to look the other way.