Ministers reject calls to proscribe Hezbollah political wing as terrorist group

The Government has resisted calls from a number of its own senior backbenchers to recognise the political wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

Labour faced accusations it was "in alliance" with ministers over the issue as its own MPs raised concerns over the stance of the party's frontbench.

Security minister Ben Wallace and his shadow counterpart Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was the right thing on balance to only proscribe the military wing of Hezbollah.

However, backbenchers on both sides of the Commons urged their parties to treat the group as a single entity.

"The annual Al Quds Day march is a scandal," said Conservative former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers.

"It's not acceptable that people can fly the Hezbollah flag on the streets of London and get away with it, get away with it simply by adding a Post-it note claiming support shown is for the political wing, not the military aspect of the organisation.

"This has got to stop. As the campaign emails which arrived in our inboxes pointed out, this is an embarrassment. They are laughing at us."

David Jones, a Tory former minister, added: "Hezbollah is, in reality, a single entity and it is ludicrous to suggest that it is not.

"As a single entity it is a threat to the entire world. British interests, not least, are affected by it."

Proscription makes it a criminal offence for people to belong to a named organisation, encourage people to support it, arrange meetings in support of it or wear clothing or carry articles that arouse suspicion an individual is in favour of it.

Speaking in a debate on a backbench motion that Hezbollah should be proscribed in its entirety, Mr Wallace said proscription was not the only tool available to tackle terrorism, the spreading of hatred or inciting violence.

Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace said the current position maintained a balance (John Stillwell/PA)

He also said that Hezbollah was part of the government and parliament in Lebanon, which presented different challenges compared with other terrorist organisations.

"While the proscription of Hezbollah in its entirety is kept under review, our current position maintains a balance," Mr Wallace told MPs.

"I've heard from many of the members today about their view that they are indivisible, that the Hezbollah military and political wing cannot be divided, that they are joined at the hip, that they are centrally led.

"That is not ... the view of every country. Australia, New Zealand and the EU take a different view."

Conservative Matthew Offord (Hendon) said he wanted the Government to listen to his call for Hezbollah to be proscribed, before criticising shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who sat on Labour's frontbench.

He said: "It's not just one party or another - and I certainly do seek to make this a party political issue - but I have to say when I do see the shadow home secretary rolling her eyes at some of the comments that Labour backbenchers have been saying, it does make me think her heart is not really in this issue and is not as concerned as many of us on this side or indeed behind her are."

Even Hezbollah doesn't pretend there's a difference between their political and military wings. But Labour still does. Beggars belief.

-- Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) January 25, 2018

Mr Thomas-Symonds warned MPs against closing off diplomatic channels in Lebanon, citing comments by former prime minister Tony Blair over regrets he had over not engaging with Hamas.

"We on these benches condemn that violence absolutely, and continue to support the proscription of the military wing, as has been the position of the Government," said Mr Thomas-Symonds.

"We simply say that we believe engagement with the Government and parliament of Lebanon is very important in terms of the wider Middle East peace process."

Labour former minister Joan Ryan, who proposed the motion, told the Commons that "there is no distinction" between wings.

Fellow Labour MP John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) added: "Does she not agree that it should make both the Government frontbench and our opposition frontbench deeply uneasy that they are currently effectively in an alliance together on refusing to recognise this bogus distinction between the so-called military wing and the rest?"

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