Foreign Office accused of resisting proscribing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard
A Cabinet split has emerged over plans to proscribe Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, with the Foreign Office accused of blocking the move in order to maintain “access”.
Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, is pushing for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to be declared a terrorist group.
But it is understood that the process has stalled after James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, raised concerns that pressing ahead with the measure could harm British interests.
MI5 has accused Iran of plotting the assassination and kidnap of at least 10 British residents last year. Last month the regime executed a British-Iranian national accused of spying.
Home Office officials have been building the case against the IRGC, with the security services understood to have shared intelligence.
Proscribing IRGC would be 'symbolic'
Proscribing the group means it would become a criminal offence to belong to the IRGC, attend its meetings, carry its logo in public or encourage support of its activities.
It would put the body on a similar legal footing as Al-Qaeda, which perpetrated the 9/11 atrocities, and Islamic State, the Islamist jihadi group, showing how grave the threat is being treated inside Whitehall.
Similar steps have been taken by the US and Canada, two of the UK’s partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia and New Zealand.
A Whitehall source told The Sunday Telegraph that proscribing the IRGC would be “symbolic” and would “send a political message” to Tehran.
They claimed there is cross-Government support for the move and that “you just have the Foreign Office” pushing back against it because they fear proscribing the group would limit their “access” by forcing them “underground”.
Fears British Embassy would be expelled
But it is understood that senior Whitehall officials are concerned that proscribing the group would likely lead to the British Embassy being expelled from Tehran in retaliation.
They argue that this would severely limit the UK’s ability to look after its interests in the country as well as negotiate with the Iranian regime over issues such as imprisoned British nationals.
A government source said: “We will not limit ourselves to actions that have already been taken [against Iran]. And whilst we will not speculate about things that we may do in the future, nothing is off the table.
“But the prism always has to be: does this achieve what we want it to achieve and does it carry the risk of harming British interest in the process?
“An argument has been made - the framing of which is does this do what we want it to do or does it have repercussions on British interests?”
The IRGC was founded as an ideological custodian of Iran’s 1979 revolution but has since morphed into a major military, political and economic force in the country.
The group controls Iran’s elite armed and intelligence forces and has provided assistance to militant groups in places such as Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
Ken McCallum, the MI5 director general, highlighted the Iranian regime’s threats to the UK in a rare public speech last November that included detailing past plots.
He said: “Iran projects a threat to the UK directly, through its aggressive intelligence services. At its sharpest, this includes ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime. We have seen at least 10 such potential threats since January alone.”
It has also emerged that Iran is allegedly trying to hire gangsters to attack dissidents in the UK and the West. Security officials told The Sunday Times that they were aware of attempts by Iranian spies to recruit members of organised crime groups to target opponents of the regime on British soil.
Support for IRGC shown in Britain
In recent years, shows of support for the IRGC, which would likely become illegal if the group is proscribed, have been seen on the streets of Britain.
The IRGC flag, with its distinctive automatic-gun insignia, was unfurled during an anti-Israel demonstration in Trafalgar Square on May 22, 2021. One of the main Iranian news agencies reportedly played footage showing the flag.
The scenes prompted calls for prescription, including from Tom Tugendhat, the Security Minister, who at the time was on the backbenches and chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee.
The Terrorism Act 2000 gave the home secretary the right to proscribe an organisation if it is reasonably believed the body is involved in terrorism and it is proportionate to do so. In total, 78 terrorist organisations have been proscribed under law.
Iranian politicians and officials have in the past rejected suggestions the IRGC is a terrorist group and defended its actions as a legitimate extension of the state.