Britain prepares post-Brexit sanctions law for Zimbabwe

Theresa May's government has prepared regulations to ensure sanctions on Zimbabwe remain in place after Brexit

The United Kingdom has drafted regulations to keep sanctions against Zimbabwe in place when Britain eventually concludes its vexed exit from the European Union.

One of the first major powers to openly welcome President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s new administration following the ouster of the long-ruling Robert Mugabe in November 2017, the UK has increasingly grown cold on the new government following its violent crackdown on protests.

The new regulations, published towards the end of March, show the UK government’s intention to maintain pressure on Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 will ensure that sanctions on Zimbabwe, which Britain spearheaded and are currently in force under EU legislation, remain in effect after the UK leaves the EU.

“These Regulations are intended to ensure that the UK can operate an effective sanctions regime in relation to Zimbabwe after the UK leaves the EU,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says in a memorandum prepared for the UK Parliament.

“Bringing this sanctions regime into UK law using the powers in the Sanctions Act will enable all the sanctions measures to continue to operate effectively after the UK leaves the EU, as well as enabling Her Majesty’s Government to amend and lift the sanctions, or impose further sanctions, autonomously.”  

The EU has maintained sanctions on Zimbabwe since 2002, when it cited human rights abuses in the run up to that year’s disputed presidential elections.

Over the years, the EU has alternately tightened and relaxed the sanctions in response to Zimbabwe’s political situation. The sanctions are mainly travel restrictions on government officials and trade embargoes on certain state-related entities.

After Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013, the EU suspended travel bans and asset freezes on the majority of the sanctioned individuals, leaving then President Mugabe and his wife Grace, as well as the state arms company, on the list.

In February, the EU maintained the suspended sanctions, only retaining the measures against the Mugabes and the Zimbabwe Defence Industries, despite fears it could reinstate sanctions against the Mnangagwa administration following a violent crackdown on protests at the beginning of the year.

The UK says it remains concerned about the human rights situation in Zimbabwe.

“Security forces continue to use disproportionate force on protesters, most recently in August 2018 during post-election demonstrations, and in January 2019 when security forces used live ammunition on protesting civilians,” the FCO memorandum says.

“Additionally, repressive Mugabe era legislation still remains in place, such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), limiting freedom of expression.”

The UK sanctions regulations do not come into effect until Britain leaves the EU. Once in force, they have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament within 60 days for them to continue having effect.

John Culley, political counsellor at the British embassy in Harare, said this step does not reflect a new set of sanctions, but “a technical measure to rollover existing EU measures. There will be similar measures for all countries or entities under EU restrictions”.