On 3 July, the government’s anti-boycott bill began its journey through parliament with a vote (286 to 70). The Labour party abstained, despite damning legal advice it had commissioned from barrister Richard Hermer KC.
Promised in the 2019 Tory manifesto, the bill says that public authorities, including local councils, universities and cultural institutions, cannot allow their financial or purchasing decisions to be influenced by their disapproval of the actions of a foreign state – unless the UK government has granted permission to do so.
Earlier, a civil society statement of opposition was released, signed by a wide range of groups and unions including CAAT, CND, Quakers in Britain and Stop the War.
They ‘advocate for the right of public bodies to decide not to purchase or procure from, or invest in companies involved in human rights abuse, abuse of workers’ rights, destruction of our planet, or any other harmful or illegal acts.’
The law is clearly targeted at the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism, military occupation and apartheid.
The new bill rules out the possibility of the government ever allowing public authorities to take BDS action against Israel.
The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill will begin its ‘committee stage’ in the Westminster parliament in September.