PM’s first challenge will be Iran, not Brexit

InFacts, 22.07.2019
David H.A. Hannay, miembro de la Cámara de los Lores y ex embajador británico (UE-ONU)

No prizes for guessing what the most pressing foreign policy challenge for Britain’s new Prime Minister will be when he enters No 10 on Wednesday. And it will not be Brexit, all consuming though that issue often seems to our body politic and to the commentariat which follows its every move. It will of course be the government’s response to events in the Gulf and to the illegal seizure of a British-flagged tanker by Iranian naval forces.
Forget any illusion that this crisis can be solved by some act of daring do of the kind sometimes pre-figured in the probable incoming Prime Minister’s weekly articles in the Telegraph and his prolific literary output. There are no easy wins or quick fixes to this tangled web.

The first thing to remember is that the whole Iranian imbroglio is a completely unnecessary one. The nuclear agreement with Iran (the JCPOA), from which the US unilaterally walked away was, as certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors, keeping Iran at least a year away from any break out to achieving a nuclear weapons capability. It was, and remains, the best way of avoiding a nuclear arms race in this highly volatile region whose security is of global significance; and the likelihood of another war in the Middle East. That was the case put forcefully and eloquently by the then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, when he visited Washington shortly before the US decision to pull out of the JCPOA. And it remains as valid today.

Secondly freedom of navigation in the Gulf and through the Strait of Hormuz is an international interest, affecting all nations and the global economy. So it needs to be safeguarded by an international response.

Both these overriding considerations point towards a firm but patient response to the immediate crisis, not a ratcheting up of the escalatory moves which are already risking getting out of control. Britain and its principal European allies, France and Germany, have full diplomatic relations with Iran and full access to the dispute settlement procedures built into the JCPOA. All three European states are allies of the US. What is needed now is to initiate a dialogue through all these channels, including also Russia and China which also have a major stake in sustaining the JCPOA. Meanwhile there will clearly need to be international steps, probably involving some sort of convoy system, to deter any attempts to tamper with freedom of navigation while diplomatic efforts to handle the crisis are continuing.

And Brexit? Well that is not going to provide easy wins or quick fixes either. The idea that the problems that have hitherto bedevilled the negotiation of a deal can be made to vanish by an act of will on the part of just one of the participants or by the wave of a magic technological wand is sheer folly. That too will require patience and perseverance; and endorsement of any outcome by Parliament and by the electorate.

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