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The House of Lords discusses Sahara and UK-Morocco association agreement

The UK-Morocco association agreement and including the Sahara within the territorial scope of said deal was discussed this week at the House of Lords. The discussion was a lively debate in which several Conservative Party Lords defended Morocco’s stance.

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The UK-Morocco association agreement, concluded in October 2019, was at the heart of debates, Monday, at the House of Lords. Including Western Sahara within the territorial scope of the trade deal was another point of disagreement between MPs from the Conservative Party (majority) and Labor Party (opposition), supported by the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Stevenson of Balamacara from the Labor Party pointed out that «the European Court of Justice has twice ruled, in 2016 and 2018, that Western Sahara is a separate and distinct territory from Morocco under international law, and that no agreement with Morocco can be applied to the territory of Western Sahara without the consent of the Sahrawi people».

Taking up the arguments already raised by the Polisario, he said that «a coalition of 93 Sahrawi civil society groups also stated that the people of Western Sahara reject the inclusion of their territory in any agreement concluded by Morocco». 

He referred to the letter sent in November 2018 by NGOs to the European Parliament calling for a vote against the fisheries agreement between Rabat and Brussels. Another lord, John Shipley of the Liberal Democratic Party, has also been advocating for the Polisario. «Moroccan authorities systematically prevent gatherings in the Western Sahara supporting Sahrawi self-determination, obstruct the work of some local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including by blocking their legal registration», he said, quoting the Human Rights Watch world report for 2020.

£2.4 billion in trade of goods and services between the UK and Morocco

Pro-Morocco lords fought back, with Chris Patten from the Conservative Party speaking out to urge his peers to be pragmatic. «It is not just this House that wishes to have a trade association with Morocco; the EU—our neighbors and friends—has also canonized, recognized and re-recognized the reality on the ground in its recent agreements with Morocco», he stressed. Without going into sterile political considerations, the MP focused on «about 3 billion pounds per year of trade» between Morocco and the United Kingdom. 

For his part, the Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth, Lord Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed, made it clear that London's position on the regional dispute has not changed, considering «Western Sahara’s status as undetermined (…) We strongly encourage co-operation to reach a mutually acceptable solution», he said.

The Minister continued his defense with financial arguments, noting that «the new agreement covers £2.4 billion in trade of goods and services between the UK and Morocco, and benefits major UK sectors such as the automotive and aerospace industries». He concluded his long response by announcing that his government would negotiate with Algeria the signing of an association agreement.

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