MPs approve government decision to fully ban Hezbollah over terror links

Labour criticised for refusal to support Sajid Javid's move

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 27 February 2019 00:09
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‘There have long been calls to ban the whole group with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors,’ says home secretary Sajid Javid
‘There have long been calls to ban the whole group with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors,’ says home secretary Sajid Javid

MPs have approved the government's decision to proscribe Hezbollah‘s political wing as a terrorist organisation.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said the new designation would cover the political as well as military wing of the Lebanese Shia group.

“There have long been calls to ban the whole group with the distinction between the two factions derided as smoke and mirrors,” Mr Javid said during a debate on the prevention and suppression of terrorism in the House of Commons.

“Hezbollah themselves have laughed off the suggestion there is a difference. I’ve carefully considered the evidence and I’m satisfied they are one and the same with the entire organisation linked to terrorism.”

Labour drew fire for refusing to back the government’s decision, only going as far as saying it would “not be opposing the motion”.

The party issued a one-line whip, meaning Labour MPs were not required to vote.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow solicitor general, said it was the opposition’s job to scrutinise the government, after the party claimed ministers had not presented “clear evidence” for the action against the group.

But Tory former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers intervened to ask: “Does the Labour front bench support the proscription of Hezbollah in its entirety?”

To jeers from the Conservative benches Mr Thomas-Symonds replied: “I’ve just set out the position. We will not be opposing the motion, but what I am seeking to do is provide scrutiny of the government’s position. It’s a perfectly reasonable position.”

Later in the debate another Tory ex-cabinet minister, Stephen Crabb, also criticised Labour, saying it is “one thing to say we’re not going to oppose”, but “what we want to hear from the opposition tonight is they actively support this important measure we are taking”.

Labour’s Dame Louise Ellman welcomed the “much-needed measure”, but added: “I am extremely concerned [Mr Thomas-Symonds], speaking for the opposition, was unable to give proper, full support to the banning of this terrorist organisation Hezbollah in its entirety.

“Hezbollah are not our friends and today would have been a very good opportunity to say so.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said he regrets calling representatives of Hezbollah “friends” during a meeting in parliament in 2009.

The decision must still be approved by the House of Lords before it comes into effect, which could happen as soon as Friday this week.

Once in force, membership will be a criminal offence carrying a maximum sentence of up to 10 years.

Israeli army search and destroy Hezbollah tunnels leading to Lebanon

Hezbollah, or the Party of God, emerged during the early 1980s with financial backing from Iran.

In 2001, ministers banned its external security organisation. Seven years later, the proscription was extended to Hezbollah’s military wing.

Until now, the government has resisted proscribing the organisation in its entirety on the basis that it provides social and political functions in Lebanon and has formed part of the country’s government.

A listing in the official register of banned groups says Hezbollah is “committed to armed resistance to the state of Israel, and aims to seize all Palestinian territories and Jerusalem from Israel”, adding: “Its military wing supports terrorism in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.”

Additional reporting by PA

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