11.00-13.00 hrs Tuesday 25th February

It is a particular honour to speak here today at an event to celebrate intenational womens' day and to examine the plight of women in Iran. It is also a great honour to be here in the Boothroyd Room in Portcullis House, in the presence of the legendary Baroness Boothroyd herself. 

If we thought the EU’s policy of appeasement of the theocratic regime in Iran was over, we have sadly had a rude awakening. With some justification, we were very critical of the EU’s previous High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, who was a continual visitor to Tehran, where she wore the veil in submission to the Ayatollah’s misogyny and even posed for selfies with the mullahs. But her successor, Josep Borrell, has compounded these blunders by undertaking the first foreign trip since he landed his new role by going to Tehran at the beginning of this month, handing a propaganda coup to the mullahs.

Despite nationwide protests in November and a violent crackdown by the Iranian regime that resulted in over 1,500 dead, 5,000 injured and an estimated 20,000 arrested, Borrell, the former Foreign Minister from Spain, claims he went to Tehran to express the EU’s on-going support for the defunct nuclear deal. He used his new EU role as High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, to meet the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, ahead of talks with President Hassan Rouhani and the parliament’s speaker Ali Larijani, claiming his mission was aimed at lowering tensions following the assassination of Iran’s leading terrorist general Qasem Soleimani. 

In his press release highlighting the visit, Borrell made no mention of the regime’s downing of the Ukrainian airliner and the subsequent loss of 176 lives. Nor did he mention the murderous attack on young protesters during the November uprising by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the regime’s Gestapo. Nor, when he met Zarif, did he raise the question of the diplomat from the Iranian Embassy in Vienna, now in jail in Belgium awaiting trial on a terror plot to bomb an opposition rally in Paris in June 2018. Indeed, shamefully, he made no mention of Iranian-sponsored terrorism or human rights whatsoever. Instead he claimed that his visit would allow him “to convey the EU’s strong commitment to preserve” the 2015 nuclear deal and to discuss cooperation between the EU and Iran.

Already his visit has attracted widespread condemnation across Europe. Borrell needs to break loose from the dead-hand of appeasement that his predecessor Federica Mogherini blindly followed. Clearly, President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has created a policy vacuum, which the EU is finding difficult to fill. 

But Borrell must surely understand that the West cannot condone the Iranian regimes fundamentalist adventurism in the Middle East. After 9 blood-soaked years in Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s civil war lurches on, backed by the Iranian regime to the tune of over $20 billion and an estimated 2,500 Iranian fatal military casualties so far. The Houthi rebels continue to foment unrest in Yemen, fighting a proxy war on behalf of their Iranian sponsors. The Iranian mullahs fund and control the brutal Shi’ia militias in Iraq who have murdered thousands of innocent Sunnis. They provide massive financial support for the terrorist Hezbollah organisation in Lebanon and for Hamas in Gaza. Every dollar spent in pursuit of their policy of aggressive Islamic revolutionary expansionism is a dollar stolen from the 80 million beleaguered Iranian citizens who are facing, domestically, a collapsing economy, disintegrating medical system, rapidly diminishing ground water and an environmental crisis.

The IRGC, which controls almost all of the Iranian economy, brutally crushes anyone who stands in its way. It was General Qasem Soleimani, as leader of the powerful paramilitary organization’s overseas arm – the Quds Force, who supervised Iran’s direct involvement in every conflict. That’s why he had been listed by the Americans as Iran’s number one terrorist and that was why President Trump ordered a drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad Airport.  Soleimani had been sent to Baghdad by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, to quell Iraqi protests, which had broken out across the country, with millions of students and young Iraqis demonstrating their outright opposition to Iranian meddling in their internal affairs. Soleimani had boasted publicly that “In Iran we know how to deal with protesters.” Masked gunmen from the Tehran controlled Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), deployed by Soleimani, then murdered over 270 of the unarmed Iraqi protesters, in a shoot-to-kill strategy similar to the one he had ordered in Iran. 

Josep Borrell needs to open a new chapter on EU policy in the Middle East. He must accept that appeasement has failed. Europe’s desperation to placate the Iranian mullahs arose directly from the ashes of the Obama administration’s policy. But Iran’s increasing hostility in recent months, with their explosive stealth attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and missile strikes on Saudi oil installations, proves that they are not prepared to abandon their belligerent behaviour. Borrell must persuade the EU to give up trying to revive Obama’s flawed deal, which never stopped the mullah’s clandestine attempts to build a nuclear weapon and indeed simply released $150bn of frozen assets that the regime rapidly used to sponsor their policy of aggressive expansion and international terror. 

It is shameful to see the EU placing more emphasis on trade and commerce than on human rights. The people of Iran expect Europe and the UN to be on their side. They expect their calls for democracy to be taken seriously. Human rights and women’s rights cannot be compromised or marginalized on the pretext of political considerations, trade deals or the flawed nuclear agreement. Obama’s appeasement policy, lamely followed by the EU, is dead in the water. 

As Europe’s new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Josep Borrell musttell the people of Iran that they have EU support and that Europeans stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their struggle to overthrow the tyrants.