Ban on public bodies boycotting Israel passes in Commons despite Tory rebellion | Politics News

Ban on public bodies boycotting Israel passes in Commons despite Tory rebellion | Politics News

Ban on public bodies boycotting Israel passes in Commons despite Tory rebellion | Politics News

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Rishi Sunak suffered a small rebellion on Wednesday night as eight Tory MPs voted against a “draconian” bill to ban public bodies from boycotting Israel.

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill ultimately passed its third reading in the Commons, but it was attacked by senior Conservatives as an affront to free speech and in breach of international law.

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The bill, also known as the anti-BDS bill, seeks to prevent public bodies, including councils, from boycotting, disinvesting or sanctioning a particular international territory, unless endorsed by the government’s own foreign policy.

The legislation fulfils a 2019 Conservative manifesto promise but has made its way through parliament during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.

Former minister Kit Malthouse, one of the Tory rebels who voted against it, told the Commons: “The fact we would be seeking to legislate against non-violent protest in such an illiberal and draconian way seems to be tragic at this particular point in time.”

Mr Malthouse argued against a section of the legislation that bans public authorities from saying they would back a boycott if it was lawful, insisting the bill could stand “without those restrictions on freedom of speech”.

Kit Malthouse was one of the eight Tory MPs to vote against the bill

He also criticised the way the bill gives ministers the power to make certain countries exempt from the boycott restrictions but not Israel, and appears to include the Occupied Territories and the Occupied Golan Heights as part of its definition of Israel.

Mr Malthouse said this “contravenes international law” and means the bill could “spend a lot of time in the courts”, while “dismaying our allies in the Arab world”.

Those concerns were shared by deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, who said that while her party “completely opposes a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel”, the bill is “deeply flawed”.

“Explicitly equating Israel with the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Golan Heights is an unprecedented step,” she said.

“To my knowledge, this wording has never appeared in British statute before and it seriously undermines our country’s longstanding, consistent and cross-party support for a two-state solution.”

Labour had put forward an amendment calling for the bill to be stopped in its tracks but this was voted down by MPs.

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The bill passed by 282 to 235, a majority 47, and it will now make its way through the House of Lords.

Labour backbencher Andy Slaughter predicted the bill “will not see the light of day before a general election” following scrutiny in the Upper Chamber, where it is likely to face further opposition.

The division list showed there were eight Tory rebels voting against the bill in the Commons, including Alicia Kearns, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, and former ministers Mr Malthouse, Vicky Ford, David Jones, and George Eustice.

They also included Flick Drummond (Meon Valley), William Wragg (Hazel Grove), and Paul Bristow (Peterborough).

Ms Kearns told The Guardian: “This bill is flawed in four key areas: it breaks with our foreign policy; undermines freedom of speech; goes against international law; and promotes an odd exceptionalism in UK primary legislation.”

Bill ‘helps fight antisemitism’

Communities Secretary Michael Gove robustly defended the bill, saying it would prevent public bodies “taking decisions which conflict with UK Government foreign policy” and help fight antisemitism.

He added: “There is a clear intention in this bill which is to deal specifically with the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign, and the BDS’s campaign attempt to use local government and other intermediate institutions and their legitimacy to undermine the UK Government’s foreign policy.”

The BDS movement aims to end international support for Israel’s “oppression of Palestinians” but it has been labelled antisemitic by Israel, Germany and the US.

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‘Israel may have broken law in Gaza’

Mr Gove also insisted the bill won’t stop ministers taking action “if we believe that there is activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that requires to be called out”, and would still allow Downing Street to establish sanctions and travel bans “against those who have been linked to blatant human rights abuses” in Israel.

The bill was debated as pro-Palestinian demonstrations continue, with huge crowds gathered outside Downing Street on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile US secretary of state Antony Blinken travelled to the Middle East, his fourth visit in three months, to hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about post-war plans for Gaza.

Against the backdrop of the visit, Israel is sending top legal minds, including a Holocaust survivor, to The Hague this week to counter allegations it is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

With no end in sight to the conflict, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron admitted on Tuesday that he is “worried” Israel “might have” broken international law, and that two British nationals remain hostage in Gaza.



Ban on public bodies boycotting Israel passes in Commons despite Tory rebellion | Politics News

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