Anton Imennov’s column of the effects of Brexit on Britain’s sanctions policy
I have one harmless hobby: every time I come to London and want to have a little fun I ask my British friends a simple question: ‘So how’s Brexit going?’
After that I stop talking and enjoy, as the usually short-spoken and very reserved British suddenly turn into passionate Italians. They gesture, speak loudly and say a lot, occasionally spicing their speech up with fun sayings and slang. Their keynote idea, much like in the old joke from one of the good episodes of the KVN[i] competition of 1991: ‘Even the coat of arms of the Soviet Union has come into ear! It means it’s time to get it in![ii]’
It has been this way until recently.
However during my last visit a strange thing happened. The serene Queen’s Counsel of an Irish mother and a Scottish father thought for a moment after my question, automatically took his glasses off, wiped them clean, put them back on his prominent nose and uttered something like:
‘My dear friend, you may laugh at it, but it’s not going very well, to be honest. And it’s even worse for Russians than for us. Let me elaborate on that. In case of Brexit the British European Communities Act of 1972 will be annulled. The next day after Britain walks out of the EU my learned friends and I (this is the way barristers address each other in court) will be stripped of the right to represent their clients in the EU Court in Luxembourg. As you understand, our law is almost like your national treasure, namely the black gold, since Britain holds about 50% of the legal representation market in sanctions disputes, and annually at least 40 claims to appeal blacklisting are filed to the EU Court registry. That is why this ship will go on without us as we’ll be thrown overboard.’
Then I skilfully interrupted him and hit back a little, without much ceremony:
‘Mate, let’s not rend your wig’s hair. It’s good for you that on May 23, 2018 Her Royal Majesty approved The Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act. You are perfectly aware that on the same day it came into force and created your own autonomous set of tools for introduction, application, administration and lifting of sanctions. Thus, you have nothing to do with the EU or the OSCE in this respect and your own mechanism of unilateral economic and financial sanctions will start working on the next day after you walk out of the EU. The advantages are obvious: speed, flexibility and judicial control in case of violation of rights. And then, you will surely be able to escape the monstrous and tiresome, as you like to put it, bureaucracy of the European Council!’
After my unexpected rant in support of traditional English values I looked at him with certain surprise, but he casually continued his lecture:
‘Right, that is clear. But! The efficiency of the system will be affected and it will become possible to use sanctions to get square with those malevolent persons, which cannot be dealt with by an unexplained wealth order. I already started preparing some of my clients for the expected introduction of British sanctions against you, Russians. Well, not you personally,’ he added quickly and patted me on the shoulder. ‘But you do understand how that will work, don’t you? Not just politicians and businessmen linked to politicians, the notorious PEP, i.e. politically exposed persons, who are already under US and EU sanctions, will find themselves under our sanctions as well. Far from just them. They are the easy part. For many there will be other grounds. Our Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has already announced introduction of a Magnitsky Act to the Parliament, which will provide additional grounds for including corrupt persons and other violators of human rights into sanctions lists. And as you may guess, their discretion here is quite unfettered. This sanctions mechanism is much more serious for many Russians who support Putin’s policy than the UWO, considering only two orders have been issued so far. So the danger of sanctions is that there is no proper set of legal guarantees and it’s virtually impossible to resort to the court. There generally are very few grounds for appeal. Sanctions primarily include a ban to enter the country, freezing of assets acquired here by your former and existing compatriots in the amount definitely exceeding that of the assets acquired by them in New York City and Miami taken together. For instance, there are lots of Russians in Belgravia, I met the daughter of your Boris Yeltsin with her husband there the other day. So the most important and the nastiest part is the crackdown on assets and those are really serious consequences!’ My interlocutor put his finger up indicating that he has finished.
We reached Cornhill street and headed towards a building with a Russian and a VTB Bank flags on it. It was sunny, but still bitterly cold.
‘This weather is very British, so typical!’ My interlocutor smiled, shook my hand and dived into the subway.
[i] A Soviet and then Russian humour TV show where teams of university students compete by giving funny answers to questions and showing prepared sketches. – Translator’s note.
[ii] There is a play on words. The punch line of the joke in Russian implies that it’s time to take the coat of arms down. – TN.