Background: the UK’s sanctions regime

Purpose and types of sanctions

The Government has explained that sanctions are used to fulfil a range of purposes, including:

  • complying with United Nations and other international obligations;
  • supporting foreign policy and national security objectives;
  • maintaining international peace and security; and
  • preventing terrorism.

To achieve these purposes, the Government may impose different types of sanctions measures:

  • trade sanctions, including arms embargoes and other trade restrictions;
  • financial sanctions, including asset freezes;
  • immigration sanctions, known as travel bans; and
  • aircraft and shipping sanctions, including de-registering or controlling the movement of aircraft of ships.

Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018

The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 provides the main legal basis for the UK to impose, update and lift sanctions. The act enabled the transition of existing European Union regimes into UK law and the establishment of UK autonomous regimes. Currently, a range of sanctions are implemented through regulations made under the act.

The sanctions regulations made under the act apply in the whole of the UK and the prohibitions and requirements in them apply to conduct by UK persons. This includes anyone in the UK, including:

  • in its territorial waters;
  • UK nationals outside of the UK; and
  • bodies incorporated or constituted under the law of any part of the UK.

Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories

The UK has responsibility for the external relations and national security of British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Therefore, it is government policy for UK sanctions measures to be given effect in these countries “to make sanctions as effective as possible”.

Exceptions and licencing

Sanctions regulations set out exceptions to some of the sanction’s prohibitions. These exceptions apply within a certain set of defined circumstances and are automatic, so there is no need for a licence.

Licences can be issued for certain activities that trade, financial, transport and immigration sanctions measures would otherwise not allow. Depending on the situation, more than one type of sanctions measure may prohibit an activity. In those cases, more than one licence may be needed.

Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 4) Regulations 2020

On 8 September 2020, the Government laid the Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 under the made affirmative procedure. The instrument was made under section 55(3) of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 and in conjunction with section 56(5) of the same act. It came into force on 1 January 2021.

What would the regulations do?

In the explanatory memorandum to the regulations, the Government said that the regulations are part of “a wider programme of statutory instrument drafting, the objective of which is to bring into UK law the sanctions regimes currently implemented through EU Council Decisions and Regulations”. It explained that the instrument would update certain sanctions (listed below) to reflect a change in policy and drafting approach on sanctions licences issued by the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.

Outlining why the change is needed and what the regulations would achieve, the Government said:

These sanctions contain prohibitions that have extraterritorial application to UK persons. This could have the effect of imposing a double prohibition and therefore a double licensing burden on UK persons in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, given that they will also be covered by specific legislation applicable in these jurisdictions. This instrument therefore introduces an exception for activities carried out under a licence granted by the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

What sanctions are affected by the regulations?

The instrument has made corrections and amendments as explained above to the following sanctions regulations:

  • the Iran (Sanctions) (Human Rights) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/134);
  • the Venezuela (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/135);
  • the Burma (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/136);
  • the Republic of Guinea-Bissau (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/554);
  • the Republic of Belarus (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/600);
  • the Zimbabwe (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/604);
  • the Syria (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/792);
  • the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/855);
  • the Chemical Weapons (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/618);
  • the Burundi (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/1142);
  • the Guinea (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (SI 2019/1145);
  • the Cyber (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/597);
  • the Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/608); and
  • the Nicaragua (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/610).

What parliamentary scrutiny has the regulations received?

Both the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have considered the regulations, with neither flagging any concerns.

The House of Commons is due to debate the regulations on 3 February 2021, and the House of Lords is due to debate the regulations in Grand Committee on 8 February 2021.

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Cover image by Olly Browning from Pixabay.