In contrast to its leadership in relation to economic sanctions against the Russian state, the UK has been much too slow in imposing sanctions on named Russian oligarchs and officials. The problem is not a lack of political will. Ministers have found it very difficult to swiftly impose sanctions on Russian nationals because of the terms of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 and the legal risks to which they give rise. Time then to change the law.
The government is moving to address the problem. The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill has been brought forward and is set today to have its second reading and to complete all remaining stages in the House of Commons. The government has tabled nine amendments designed to streamline the process of imposing sanctions. The amendments will help, but not enough, and another – more direct and focused – option should be explored.
The first amendment will remove section 2 from the 2018 Act, a section which was added in the course of the Bill’s passage through the House of Lords. The point of the section is to force ministers to think long and hard about whether there is a problem to which sanctions might be an answer and about whether imposing sanctions is in fact a reasonable response to the problem. I doubt this section is a main cause of our present difficulties. The amendment might streamline the process in future – which may or may not be a good thing, for not every international crisis is as serious as this one is – but it is unlikely to speed up the process of sanctioning Russian nationals.
Much more important are the amendments to sections 11 and 12, which (a) remove the requirement that ministers consider the likely significant effects of imposing sanctions on individuals and (b) create an urgent process for imposing sanctions on named individuals.