Tory MPs raise concerns about Michael Gove’s anti-BDS bill

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Tory MPs raise concerns about Michael Gove’s anti-BDS bill

Alicia Kearns, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, says 'My concern is we should not specifically name Israel on the face of the bill ...I worry whether this will undermine community cohesion'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

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

Conservative MPs and peers, including Alicia Kearns, chair of the influential foreign affairs select committee and the former leader Ian Duncan Smith, have raised concerns about the government’s anti-BDS bill.

Kearns said that while she supported the principle that taxpayers’ money should not be used to undermine the government’s foreign policy, she was concerned that Michael Gove’s Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill specifically named the state of Israel.

She said:”My concern is we should not specifically name Israel on the face of the bill.

“We should not do country-specific legislation as it undermines our foreign policy. I also worry whether this will undermine community cohesion.”

The Guardian claimed nearly 10 Conservative MPs and peers had  expressed concerns regarding the bill before it goes back to parliament for its second reading.Ex-Tory party leader Iain Duncan Smith expressed fears that the proposed law could prevent government bodies from declining to purchase Chinese-produced goods.

“We have to make sure nothing gets in the way of stopping slave labour from Xinjiang being used in supply chains,” he told the newspaper referring to where Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups face  rights abuses.

Gove’s anti-boycott bill was tabled in parliament last Monday.

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

He claimed:”“These [boycott, divestment and sanction] campaigns not only undermine the UK’s foreign policy but lead to appalling antisemitic rhetoric and abuse. My message to these organisations is to get on with your job and focus on delivering for the public.”

The bill specifically names only one country, Israel, saying the legislation should equally apply to the occupied Palestinian territories and Golan Heights.

If passed into law, public bodies such as local councils will be barred from making any “economic decision” when procuring goods and services or making an investment, if the decision can be shown to be “influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign states”.

The bill does not specify the maximum penalties public bodies could face for flouting the law, with the figure due to be announced by Gove in the coming months.

Backed by the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies, other Jewish groups, including Yachad have raised their own fears about the legislation, as have leading KC’s including Simon Myerson.

“While the discussion has centred around Israel-Palestine, this bill has far broader implications on free speech and civil liberties,” said Yachad.

The group added:”Democracies are fragile and need to be protected. Using legislation to clamp down on free speech and space for dissent harms our democracy. The idea that we as Jews are somehow safer because it will now be made illegal for a public authorities not just to boycott Israel, but China or Myanmar, to name just a few examples, and furthermore will be barred from even saying that they would do so, were they allowed, makes a mockery of our commitment, as Jews, to the concept of democratic rights and free speech.”

Labour, who has announced they oppose BDS, and the Liberal Democrats are expected to table amendments to the bill. 

A government spokesperson said: “The economic activity bill will ensure that the UK speaks with one voice internationally and the taxpayer only has to pay for foreign policy once. Public bodies should not be pursuing their own foreign policy agenda.”

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