Britain will urge the European Union to extend the sanctions against leading members of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF party to their wives and children.
As part of a new international drive to increase the pressure on the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, Gordon Brown has asked officials at the Foreign Office to draw up a list of family members of the 131 people who are banned from travelling to Europe and have had their financial assets in the EU frozen. This would prevent members of Zimbabwe's ruling elite from educating their children in Europe or hiding their assets in the names of close relatives. In Britain, only £172,000 in 42 bank accounts has been frozen under the existing sanctions.
Yesterday, The Independent revealed that Mr Brown would boycott a summit of EU and African leaders in Portugal in December if, as expected, Mr Mugabe attends. The Prime Minister said Britain would submit proposals to the EU to tighten the measures against Zimbabwe's leaders in the next few days. He told ITV News: "I believe that these sanctions could be extended to the families of people so more people could be under sanctions.
"The sanctions are an indication of the abhorrence of people in Europe about what is happening in Zimbabwe."
The growing crisis in Zimbabwe was a "shocking tragedy" that required the whole world to speak up and act, Mr Brown added. "It is getting worse as a result of the failure of President Mugabe to respond to what the world is saying, and to the events in his own country," he said.
"And the numbers of people who have been pushed into poverty, unemployment and suffering as a result is something that is angering the whole world. There are no easy answers to this question but it is the combination of measures that will, in the end, bring the results which we want – which is a restoration of full democracy."
Britain's "assumption" was that Mr Mugabe would attend the African Union-EU summit in Lisbon, a Downing Street spokesman said. Portugal, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, is worried that the meeting will collapse if Mr Mugabe is not invited because other African leaders would pull out. Mr Brown's official spokesman suggested that the Prime Minister would attend if Zimbabwe was represented by someone other than its President. "That would be a different circumstance," he said. But government sources in Portugal and Zimbabwe indicated that Mr Mugabe had been told he would be invited and would turn up.
British officials denied that Mr Brown's decision to launch an initiative on Zimbabwe would play into Mr Mugabe's hands, emphasising it also included "positive measures", such as an extra £8m of food aid and a long-term economic recovery programme.
The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said Mr Brown's move was "a step in the right direction" but did not go far enough. He added: "As long as Mugabe still has got his embassies overseas and in the rest of Europe and in England, there is still the conduit through which he actually gets all the goods and the money being transacted through those embassies." Military intervention by the African Union might be needed to ensure humanitarian aid was properly distributed in Zimbabwe, Dr Sentamu added, saying: "I want to say to by the African Union, 'Please put pressure on Mugabe to go now, not in five, six, seven weeks' time. Go now, put in a government that can actually begin to reverse the particular difficulties'."
A Portuguese MEP, Paolo Casaca, accused Mr Brown of double standards, pointing out that Britain did not boycott a summit between the EU and the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) bloc this year, despite the presence of the Foreign Minister of Burma. Burmese leaders are supposedly banned from travelling because of their country's human rights record. "What is the difference between Zimbabwe and Burma?" Mr Casaca asked.
"It is absolutely double standards. The difference is that, unfortunately, Africa is worthless from the economic point of view and the Asean is very important."
British unions welcomed Mr Brown's stance. Brendan Barber, the TUC leader, said: "If the Zimbabwean leader is allowed to attend, his appearance will give his despotic and repressive regime the legitimacy he craves.
"The Prime Minster is sending a clear message that the UK will have nothing to do with Mr Mugabe so long as he continues to oppress [his] people."