Legislation aimed at stopping local councils bringing in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) policies that target Israel have been announced in today’s Queens Speech marking the state opening of parliament.
The yearly address to parliament, which outlines the government’s agenda for the next session, confirmed the inclusion of the government’s anti-BDS proposals which would “prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion.”
The BDS and Sanctions Bill follows a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to preventing local authorities from “adopting their own approach to international relations.”
It was one of 38 Bills announced by the government on Tuesday, alongside moves to bring in criminal offences against protesters who cause serious disruption, and the replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.
Prince Charles took on the head of state’s ceremonial duty on Tuesday, reading out the Queens Speech on behalf of the Queen, who “reluctantly” announced she would miss the state opening of parliament the previous day.
Reading the speech, the Prince of Wales confirmed the inclusion of the anti-BDS Bill which would ban “boycotts that undermine community cohesion.”
Last year former Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told a communal event it was his New Year wish for parliament to pass a law imposing “an absolute ban” BDS.
Jenrick’s successor in the role, which now includes Levelling Up duties, Michael Gove has long been an outspoken opponent of BDS.
Speaking to MPs in the Commons in March, Gove said that one way of tackling the “evil of antisemitism” was to “stand up to the BDS campaign.”
Arguing the case for an anti-BDS Bill, the government has now argued “boycotts may legitimise and drive antisemitism” by focusing so much on Israel.
The Bill aims to empower government to ban public bodies who conduct their own boycott campaigns against foreign countries or officials, when they are “inconsistent with official UK policy.”
It would also prevent public institutions from using BDS to target the sale of goods and services from foreign countries, and UK firms which trade with such countries or territories.
The government has responded angrily to motions passed by councils such as Lancaster City Council, which in June 2021 passed BDS motions against Israel, and Leicester City Council, who voted to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in 2014.
The Bill has also taken into consideration evidence suggesting boycotts have gone beyond targeting just the state of Israel and have “contributed to the horrific rise of antisemitism in the UK.”
It is claimed kosher food had been removed from supermarket shelves, Jewish films have been banned from festivals and Jewish student societies have been blocked as a result of “unofficial boycotts.”
Boris Johnson has included similar commitments to tackle the BDS movement over claims they “overwhelmingly target Israel” in the last two Queens Speeches.
The Duke of Cambridge was also alongside Prince Charles at the state opening of parliament.
The decision to allow Charles to read the speech with Prince William required a special rule change in the form of a legal instrument known as Letters Patent.
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