’40 Tory MPs’ expressing ‘serious concerns’ about Gove’s BDS bill

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’40 Tory MPs’ expressing ‘serious concerns’ about Gove’s BDS bill

Labour expected to publish legal advice on Monday which suggests the bill is 'very poorly drafted' and 'deeply problematic from both a domestic and international law perspective'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement wants to end international support for Israel.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement wants to end international support for Israel.

Around 40 Conservative MPs have now expressed “serious concerns” about Communities Secretary Michael Gove’s anti-BDS bill ahead of its second reading in the House of Commons next week, Jewish News understands.

A group of around nine of these Tory MPs were so concerned about the potential impact of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, they held a meeting with party whips earlier this week, at which Communities Secretary Gove was also present.

Under the proposed legislation, which has been strongly backed by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies, public bodies that impose their own boycotts on foreign governments or territories could face heavy fines. 

One source later confirmed the meeting had been “a frosty one”, but they said the secretary of state was “keen to listen to concerns.”

Meanwhile, the Labour Party have now tabled what is known as a “reasoned amendment”  setting out the party’s own objections to large parts of the bill, and urging the government to rethink its proposals.

The move is expected to be supported by Liberal Democrat MPs, and Labour are hopeful that many of the Conservative MPs concerned about the bill will also support their amendment.

During Monday’s debate, Dame Margaret Hodge is expected to be among those on the Labour benches to express major concern about the scope of the government’s anti-BDS legislation. 

Labour’s amendment condemns public bodies who embark on “selective and biased campaigns” against the Jewish community.

But the amendment, tabled in the name of Keir Starmer, and including shadow cabinet members David Lammy and Lisa Nandy’s names, suggests the face of the bill “singles out the state of Israel in effect creating the issue it intends to solve” and gives “unprecedented powers to the secretary of state beyond those enjoyed by the police and the security services.”

Labour also claims the bill “risks undermining support for groups around the world facing persecution, for example the Uyghur.”

Uyghur Muslims

In an interview with Jewish News this week INTERVIEW: Lisa Nandy: Labour ‘absolutely shares’ government’s concern over BDSshadow communities secretary Nandy stressed her own long-term objections to BDS, and said it could be used to “whip up hostility against the Jewish community.
But she said:”“We’ve taken legal advice over the bill.

 “It’s not at all clear the bill does what the government thinks it does.”

Ahead of Labour’s decision to publish this legal advice on Monday, Jewish News understands a leading KC has suggested to the party that the bill has been “very poorly drafted.”

A communal source added the legal advice to Labour will also claim that key provisions within the bill are deeply problematic from both a domestic and international law perspective.

The source said it will warn that there are profound implications for local democracy, for free speech, and for this country’s record of campaigning for human rights globally, if  the legislation is passed.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Picture date: Monday October 4, 2021.

Some of the Tory MPs raising their own concerns about the bill have echoed criticism made by Alicia Kearns, the influential foreign affairs select committee chair, over the naming only of the state of Israel on the face of the bill, especially around the impact of this on their local communities.

Others have raised fears that, if passed, the legislation will impact on the ability of local authorities to take a stance on the detention of more than a million Uyghur Muslims in the and to refuse to buy products that might profit the Chinese regime.

Some of these Tory MPs have also expressed anger that the proposed legislation does not reflect libertarian values around freedom of expression and is by its very nature “thoroughly un-Conservative”.

The source suggested the government had “misjudged the strength of opposition to this legislation” amongst backbench Tory MPs.

The Liberal Democrats foreign affairs spokesperson  Layla Moran has labelled the bill “awful” and “grubby”, suggesting it has been brought forward by the government as a “trap” to Labour over antisemitism.

Anti-BDS legislation had first been promised in the Conservative Party’s 2019 election manifesto. It has been welcomed by many communal organisations including both the Conservative and Labour Friends of Israel groups. 

But other groups such as Yachad have strongly criticised the proposals, and a recent motion passed by the Union of Jewish Students saying the bill would “do nothing” to assist the fight against antisemitism.”

A number of senior legal figures in the community are known to have expressed their own concern about the wide scope of the bill, and the language used in its drafting.

After Gove introduced the bill earlier this month, he was immediately praised by Israel’s minister of diaspora Amichai Chikli. CFI also described the proposals as “ground-breaking.”

A spokesperson for the UK government said the legislation was needed as public bodies should not be pursuing their own foreign policy agenda.

They added the bill would ensure the UK spoke “with one voice internationally” .

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