Today, the House of Commons is due to debate and vote on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill – more commonly known as the anti-BDS or anti-boycott bill, at third reading. This bill is a poorly drafted, politically-motivated attempt by a spiralling Conservative government to prevent public bodies, including universities, local authorities, and government departments, from making ethical investment decisions that align with their human rights responsibilities and obligations. More specifically, it attempts to stifle the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
It is now more clear than ever that a two-state solution is crucial for ending the prolonged suffering of the Palestinian people, yet the Tories are willing to throw diplomatic efforts for peace out of the window with this bill. It is UK Government policy that the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are under occupation, and that Israeli settlements within the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law, yet these areas are given identical treatment to Israel within the provisions of the bill, blurring a distinction which has been at the core of the UK’s policy on the peace process for decades.
As such, I will be joining Labour Party colleagues in voting against the Government’s damaging and diplomatically reckless bill. It is not right or practical for councils and other public bodies to be banned from even expressing a view about foreign policy or face penalties.
If made law, it could also restrict public bodies from divesting from companies that are complicit in grotesque human rights abuses committed by the Chinese Government against Uyghur Muslims or the Myanmar junta’s crimes against humanity, delegitimising the UK’s status as champions of human rights
History has shown us the power of boycotts, be it the international campaigns against apartheid in South Africa or for the struggle of African-American rights in the US. We must not be complacent in protecting and promoting human rights and we must not punish public bodies from expressing their right to do this either.
Much like this Conservative Government – this bill is deeply flawed and I will firmly be voting against it.