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David Lidington

Minister for Europe, London

Part of FCDO Outreach

25th April 2012 London, UK

What has been the effect of EU sanctions on Burma?

On Monday EU Foreign Ministers decided to suspend all EU sanctions against Burma, apart from the arms embargo. This extraordinary decision is very welcome. The British Government has worked tirelessly to build a solid and coherent EU foreign policy towards Burma. We believe that when a nation, like Burma, reacts to international pressure and begins to reform, then it is only right that sanctions against the country should be reviewed.

I would highlight three points about this decision. First, it demonstrates the power of sanctions. Although it was the Burmese Government’s decision to begin reforms, including the holding of relatively free and fair elections at the start of April, EU sanctions were part of the mix of international pressure which led to this decision. Sanctions are not always the answer to all problems. But to those who say that sanctions cannot work, I would add Burma to the growing list of situations which suggest the opposite.

Second, it shows how Britain can effectively shape the EU’s foreign policy agenda. It took much behind-the-scenes lobbying, including by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary personally, to secure this outcome. Our cause was helped by their recent visits to Burma, which gave them an unprecedented insight into the situation in the country. This is EU external action at its most effective – complementing, not supplementing or replacing, the collective foreign policy of individual European nations.

And third, the decision was a subtle one – to suspend, not to lift, the sanctions. There is still a long way to go for the Government of Burma to show that these reforms are lasting, permanent and for the good of the people. Many issues remain unresolved: a significant number of political prisoners remain in jail; there remains a need for a serious political dialogue with all ethnic groups; there are ongoing concerns over the continuing conflict in Kachin State with widespread human rights abuses; and we continue to call for unhindered humanitarian access to ethnic areas.

But as Aung San Suu Kyi herself noted, the suspension of sanctions represents the best way to both recognise progress and the President’s courage in driving forward the reform programme, whilst retaining leverage to ensure that reforms continue. We will need to tolerate minor setbacks, and are prepared for this. But we will continue to invest in the outcome, to play an active role in supporting the reform process and to strongly encourage any engagement in the commercial sector to be responsible and support broad-based growth. And we will encourage our international partners to balance a focus on trade with their responsibilities to contribute aid.

It is worth bearing in mind that the UK remains the largest bilateral donor of aid to Burma. We have a particular interest in a stable, democratic and prosperous Burma with which we can all enjoy a close relationship. To that end, the Prime Minister said on Monday that he welcomed the suspension of sanctions against Burma. As he saw for himself, President Thein Sein has taken important steps towards reform in Burma, and it is right for the world to respond to them. But those changes are not yet irreversible, which is why it is right to suspend rather than lift sanctions for good.

About David Lidington

David Lidington MP was appointed Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 14 May 2010. David Lidington was elected to Parliament in 1992 and is the Member…

David Lidington MP was appointed Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 14 May 2010.
David Lidington was elected to Parliament in 1992 and is the Member of Parliament for Aylesbury.
He worked for BP and RTZ before spending three years as Special Advisor to Douglas Hurd in the Home Office and Foreign Office.
His proudest political achievement was successfully promoting a
Private Members Bill which became the Chiropractors Act in 1994. He
believes that this piece of legislation has made a real difference to
many people’s lives.
He has a long standing passion for history, and has twice captained a
champion team on University Challenge, first in 1979 and then in 2002
when the Sidney Sussex team became “champion of champions” in University
Challenge Reunited.
He is married to Helen Lidington and has four sons.