LFI parliamentarians make the case for proscribing the IRGC

LFI parliamentary supporter Margaret Hodge MP and LFI vice-chair Sharon Hodgson MP

At today’s Westminster Hall Debate on countering Iran’s hostile activities, two LFI parliamentarians set out the case for the government to take a stronger stand against the Iranian regime, and particularly its ideological terror army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

LFI parliamentary supporter Margaret Hodge MP, who co-sponsored the debate, spoke at length about the activity of Iranian agents in the UK in recent years:

“It is now almost a month since we woke up to the news that Iran had launched 300 drones and missiles at Israel, following Israel’s attack on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders in Damascus. That was the first direct attack by Iranians on Israel’s soil in the horrendous conflict that is taking place in the middle east, but it sits within a wider context of the threat that Iran poses not just to Israel, but to Britain and to our western allies. Iran is listed alongside Russia and China by our security services as a hostile state, and yet, in the words of the commissioner at the Commission for Countering Extremism, Robin Simcox, “what is underappreciated is the scale of Iranian-backed activity in this country; and the extent to which Iran attempts to stoke extremism here.”

Mostly, Iran works through its agents. At their heart is the IRGC, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. We all remember the protests in Iran following the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested simply for refusing to wear a hijab. The widespread protests that followed her death, with women removing their headscarves and chanting, “Women, life, freedom”, were violently crushed by the IRGC. More than 500 protesters were killed, more than 19,400 individuals were arrested and at least 27 protesters have been given a death sentence, of whom seven have been executed.

In Iran, the IRGC is renowned for its brutality and violence, for undermining human rights and democracy, and for being a terrorist paramilitary organisation that acts as the ideological custodian of the Islamic Republic. But its influence extends to Britain and to our allies. Since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie in 1989, the IRGC has targeted British nationals and Iranian opposition activists living in exile here on our soil. In 2022, the head of MI5, Ken McCallum, warned that Iran’s intelligence services had made at least 15 credible threats to kidnap or even kill individuals living here in Britain. Such actions pose a significant threat to our national security.

Attacks on journalists who seek to hold the Iranian regime to public account are particularly horrific. Those journalists have been described by Iran as “enemies of the state”. We had the terrifying attack on Pouria Zeraati, who worked as a journalist for Iran International, a Persian-language opposition TV channel, and was stabbed in the leg outside his home in Wimbledon. We learned about the threat and harassment meted out to BBC journalists working for BBC Persian. For example, Rana Rahimpour, who worked for the BBC for 15 years, had her car broken into, a listening device installed in it and her phone tapped, and the conversations were misleadingly edited and broadcast in Iran to suggest that she supported the regime. That led to attacks on her from those who oppose the regime. In the end, she quit her job because of the pressure on her and her family, saying: “They don’t want fair, trusted or impartial news to reach the shores of my homeland.”

A recent report by Reporters Without Borders says that London has become a “hot spot” for transnational repression. Iran also seeks to influence public opinion by spreading propaganda. There are concerning ties between the IRGC and local Islamic centres in cities such London, Manchester and Glasgow. According to Policy Exchange, the Islamic Centre of England, which is located in a converted cinema in Maida Vale, is the centre of Iranian influences in the UK. The head of the centre is directly appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei. Senior clerical figures travelled freely from Iran to the centre in the UK to voice their repressive ideology, while at the same time Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was languishing in a prison in Iran.

Similarly, the Kanoon Towhid Islamic centre in west London is used as a meeting place for the Islamic Students Association of Britain. There, IRCG commanders lecture students on the evils of Israel and its western allies. “Death to Israel,” proclaimed one IRCG commander, who also claimed the holocaust was “a lie and a fake”.

Another claimed that they are engaged in “an apocalyptic war that will end the lives of Jews”.

All that is going on within our shores, in our communities and places of worship in Britain. That is just a small part of the nefarious activities in which Iran is engaged, which also include providing weapons to Russia in Ukraine, and to Hezbollah, Hamas and the Houthis in the middle east. Even worse, our financial institutions are facilitating Iran’s wrongdoing.

[…] I am afraid that our response so far does not match the scale of the threat we face. We are working with our allies to counter Iran’s hostile activities, but the Government must do more at home to target both the IRGC and its enablers. There are three key levers that I urge the Minister to consider. First, I call on the Government to act firmly and proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist group. Action against what is clearly a hostile state-sponsored threat is long overdue.

Secondly, the Government must ramp up their efforts to impose sanctions on the members of the IRGC. I recognise that significant strides have been made in sanctioning the IRGC as an entity and several of its commanders. Indeed, the Government’s new Iran sanctions regime gives us the enhanced powers we need to target those involved in supporting the Iranian regime’s human rights violations across the world. That includes those who finance or are associated with Iran’s hostile activities, as well as any entities involved in the production and export of Iranian weapons. Imposing sanctions on IRGC agents, or other associated entities, would allow us to freeze their UK assets, deport those without UK citizenship, and prevent any UK persons from dealing with them. We must make full use of those powers and target a far broader range of agents, including networks of individuals and companies associated with the IRGC.”

Later, LFI vice-chair Sharon Hodgson spoke about the need to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, a longstanding LFI campaign goal:

“Very often, when the case is made for why the IRGC must be proscribed, we focus on the havoc it has wreaked across the middle east in Gaza, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere. That is particularly understandable in light of the events of the last few months, as Gaza, Israel and southern Lebanon have become the scene of death and destruction, in large part due to Iran and its proxies. The case for proscribing the IRGC as a terror group is made plain by its support for terror groups across the middle east. However, it also poses a growing threat to us here in the UK, as we heard in the opening speeches—a threat that transforms proscription into an urgent policy need to undermine terrorist and extremist activity in our own country.

In recent years, the Iranian regime has increasingly exploited the free and open society we all seek to defend here in the UK in order to pursue its own ends. Matt Jukes, the head of counter-terror policing, has made it clear that no fewer than 15 Iranian plots to kill or kidnap people on British soil have been uncovered in just the past two years. Meanwhile, MI5 has reported that Iran’s “aggressive intelligence services”, including the IRGC, have “ambitions to kidnap or even kill British or UK-based individuals perceived as enemies of the regime.”

Again and again, the Foreign Secretary and his predecessors have made formal representations to the Iranian regime that that behaviour is unacceptable, but again and again, that has not worked, and the IRGC continues to operate in our country.

Last February, the opposition news network, Iran International, was temporarily forced to relocate its headquarters from London to Washington—that is not Washington in my constituency, just for clarity—in response to threats from the Iranian Government against journalists based in our country. Scotland Yard was shamefully forced to warn staff that it could not safeguard them from Tehran-backed assassins or kidnappers on UK soil. As recently as March this year, the Iranian journalist Pouria Zeraati, who works for Iran International, was stabbed by three men on a residential street in Wimbledon.

Equally troubling is the fact that the IRGC and other Iranian agents are known to exercise soft power on behalf of the Iranian regime. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking mentioned, the Charity Commission has in recent years investigated the Islamic Centre of England in Maida Vale, giving it an official warning in 2022. That followed two events held at the charity’s premises in 2020 that eulogised Major General Qasem Soleimani, who was subject to UK sanctions, and that may have placed individuals present in breach of the Terrorism Act. We have also seen reports of IRGC commanders speaking to British students to encourage and incite antisemitic attacks. At least eight IRGC leaders have addressed British student audiences since early 2020. One commander who spoke said the holocaust was “fake”, boasted of training al-Qaeda terrorists and urged his audience to join “the beautiful list of soldiers” who would fight and kill Jews in the incoming apocalyptic war. Another IRGC commander invited to speak by the Islamic Students Association of Britain claimed Jews “created homosexuality” and that students should see themselves as “holy warriors”, promising that the “era of the Jews” would soon be at an end.

Just this year, a BBC report on the same organisation found that a former IRGC commander, Ezzatollah Zarghami, had spoken to students. He is reported to have previously “boasted of training Hamas in Gaza prior to the 7 October attacks”, and in an interview on Iranian state TV, he described how “he had provided Hamas with missiles.”

Evidence of the IRGC’s support for terrorism across the middle east is abundant and undisputed. Indeed, it has been painfully clear since 7 October. Now we have growing evidence of the IRGC operating in our own country, under the Government’s nose and seemingly at will. Today, the IRGC is a source, supporter and funder of terrorism, not just in Gaza and Beirut but increasingly in our very own Wimbledon and Maida Vale. If the Government have a strategy intended to deter that activity, it is just not working. We have had years of the Government refusing to proscribe the IRGC for one reason or another. However, it is increasingly clear to everyone else what needs to happen.

If it looks like a terrorist organisation, acts like a terrorist organisation and operates like a terrorist organisation, it is hard to understand why the Government, in the words of the current Minister for Security, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), on 23 March 2024—indeed, I think all Ministers use the same quote—“do not routinely comment on whether an organisation is or is not being considered for proscription.”

Thankfully, we in the Labour party—I hope I hear this from my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) on the Front Bench—are a Government in waiting and we stand ready to do what this Government seemingly will not do, which is to finally proscribe the IRGC.”

You can read the full debate here.