28 June 2024

The next government must call out Iran’s network of terror


Even as Iran’s people elect a new president, we should be under no illusion about the real character of the Islamic Republic. This despotic theocratic regime maintains control of an unwilling population thanks to the awful apparatus of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which operates as a state within the state. One only needs to consider the response to the recent popular protests against the regime to appreciate the bloody efficiency with which the IRGC carries out its work.

Not only does the IRGC terrorise the Iranian people, but its twisted, fanatical ideology is also exported, both within the Middle East region and to the wider world. The IRGC is the main backer of Islamist terror groups in that region and across the globe. Hamas, perpetrators of the barbaric October 7 attack on Israel. Hezbollah, whose missiles target Israeli citizens. The Houthis, attacking shipping and British military assets in the Red Sea. These are but three of the IRGC’s proxies and their instruments of terrorist activity.

The IRGC’s actions are not limited to the Middle East. Their ambitions are far wider. In 2023, the Metropolitan Police and security services announced that they had detected no fewer than 15 separate terror plots orchestrated by the IRGC on British soil. The IRGC is active in our country and may strike again.

All this makes the IRGC one of the most dangerous terrorist organisations in the world, responsible for many thousands of deaths each year. It is a state-funded group, a functional military force and terror network with numerous proxies, all of whom regard the West and Western values as legitimate targets.

There can be no doubt that the IRGC is a terrorist organisation. There are plenty of members of the IRGC who are currently under UK sanctions. However, this is simply not enough. The time has long since passed for the IRGC in its entirety to be proscribed as a terror group.

While I was in Parliament, I and many other Conservative colleagues pushed for this classification for many years. However, we were rebuffed by interests within the Foreign Office. Despite clear examples of terrorist activity by the IRGC, we were told repeatedly that the FCDO would continue to resist the proscription of the terror wing of the Iranian state.

The apparent reason was that such action would forever end any dialogue between the UK and Iran’s leadership. That it would end any possibility of sensitive negotiations or arrangements that might prove beneficial for the UK.

Labour are now briefing that if they form the next government, they will proscribe the IRGC. They should be aware that any such proposal will encounter stiff resistance from the FCDO.

But the Foreign Office’s reasoning is quite clearly defective. Maintaining this so-called dialogue has allowed the UK precisely zero benefit or advantage.

It has not stopped the IRGC from planning and executing terror plots around the world, or indeed within the UK. It has not accrued any positive feelings and was certainly of little to no benefit in the case of the wrongful imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Let me be clear: the FCDO’s stance is viewed as weakness by Iran and the IRGC. They have cynically exploited this and continue to export their terror around the world without fear of reprisal. Similarly, the resumption of the nuclear ‘deal’ has been seen as a further example of weakness, as Iran has repeatedly flouted the terms of the arrangement.

Iran and the IRGC only respect strength and robust responses to their crimes. Whoever forms the next government here in the UK, it must be a priority to ensure that this sorry situation changes. All parties in the UK should support the proscription of the IRGC as a matter of priority. It is not, and should not be, a partisan political issue. 

It is clearly in the interests of our national security and a matter of plain common sense to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Two of our closest allies, Canada and the US, have already done so. We must not be left behind, nor be the weak link in what must become a united front against Iran’s state-sponsored terrorist organisation.

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David Jones is a former Cabinet Minister.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.