Emergency powers would allow government to target individuals already sanctioned by US or EU
- Russia-Ukraine war: live news
Last modified on Fri 4 Mar 2022 14.14 EST
The UK government is planning emergency powers to immediately sanction people who have already been sanctioned by the US or EU, in response to a barrage of criticism that it has been too slow to target Russian oligarchs.
Amendments to sanctions laws tabled by Priti Patel, the home secretary, would introduce a new “urgent procedure” to give the UK the legal ability to sanction individuals on the basis of other countries while it builds up its own cases.
Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, prompting a wave of financial sanctions from the EU and the US. However, on Friday the UK had only imposed sanctions on 15 individuals and 205 companies.
The urgent designation will be limited to 56 days, according to the amendment, seen by the Guardian. That would mean that Foreign Office officials would still have to build up a legal case for the sanctions to the same standards.
However, it could allow UK officials to move more quickly to follow allies. Officials in EU member states have expressed frustrations about the UK’s slow pace. On Thursday, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice-president said the UK would “continue to follow the [EU’s] lead because the pressure of the public opinion in the UK is very clear about this”.
The changes are being brought as part of amendments to a long-delayed economic crime bill that has been spurred by the invasion. They are aimed at “streamlining the process by which an appropriate minister can make designations for the purposes of sanctions regulations”, according to an attached explanatory statement.
The amendment says that the minister can rely on “corresponding” provisions brought under laws in the USA, the EU, Australia and Canada, as well as any other country specified by ministers.
Dame Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP who has long campaigned for tougher anti-corruption laws, said the amendments appeared to be “a win for parliament” that would give the power to sanction Russian oligarchs more quickly.
“The government is seeing sense and putting in place the emergency legislation that we have been calling for to ensure that we can quickly sanction the Russian oligarchs propping up Putin’s regime,” she said.
“For too long the UK has been the jurisdiction of choice for dirty money. And now we are a global laughing stock as we have lagged behind our allies with our utter failure to effectively sanction Putin’s oligarch cronies.”
Tom Keatinge, a financial crime expert at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank (RUSI), said the changes may reflect a realisation in government that it has been unable to act quickly enough during the crisis.
“Clearly the UK’s frustration with its ability to enact its own laws means it is going to have to rely on the designations of other countries,” he said.
Other amendments include reducing an implementation period for foreign owners to declare their beneficial ownership of UK property from 18 months to six months – as called for by Hodge and other MPs – as well as raising minimum daily fines for failing to disclose information required under the economic crime bill from £500 to £2,500.
Hodge said: “Tougher financial penalties and a six-month implementation period will make the new property register more effective in shining a light on any crook or kleptocrat that wishes to use our property market to hide their ill-gotten gains.”
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