British sanctions on Iran are looking more and more plausible following the seizure of a British-flagged ship in the Gulf region.
According to reports, the British government is under strong pressure from lawmakers to act decisively in the sharply escalating diplomatic quarrel between the two countries.
The seizure of the British ship followed growing domestic criticism in the House of Commons about the lack of naval protection for British tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. This has become a sore point for outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May’s departure from elected office. May had refused the urging of the American government to coordinate maritime protection for ships in the region. Apparently May had taken the view that if Britain joined an American-proposed “coalition off navies” it would be seen as endorsing President Donald Trump’s hard-line, sanctions-led approach to Iran.
Now it seems that British authorities are at least considering an about-face.
British Defense Minister Tobias Ellwood told British media earlier this week that Downing Street is looking at the option of imposing sanctions in response to the seizing of the ship along with its 23-strong crew. Sanctions could include the freezing of Iranian assets in the United Kingdom.
If British sanctions on Iran were to become reality, it would be the beginning of a major shift for British policy in dealing with Tehran—possibly indicating a change for all of Europe as well.
Along with several other big E.U. players, Britain has strongly objected to America’s hardline stance on Iran. They have taken active measures to try and mitigate the effects of the crushing U.S. sanctions, and were one of the key initiators of the European trade channel with Iran known as INSTEX. The special-purpose vehicle allows businesses to trade with Iran through bypassing conventional mediums such as the SWIFT network (which removed all Iranian banking institutions in mid 2018).
London has already called on European partners to form a joint response to Iran’s aggression in the Gulf. While politicians may be looking into softer options to dealing with the schism, sanctions by a major European power could trigger an unfavorable trend for Iran throughout the entire continent.