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Tory attempt to restrict boycotts of Israel ‘unlawful’

Government acted improperly, high court rules

On 22 June, the high court in London ruled that the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and arms industry policy.

In September 2016, the department for communities and local government had published some innocuously titled ‘guidance’ on investment strategies for local government pension schemes.

The DCLG wrote: ‘using pension policies to pursue boycotts, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’ (In other words, we can do it; you can’t.)

Scare tactics

A legal opinion obtained by War on Want found that the regulations had no force ‘aside from some overblown rhetoric clearly intended to scare campaigners’.

Although the document did not specifically name Israel, it was part of a series of measures, launched at a joint press conference in Jerusalem by British minister Matthew Hancock and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, explicitly intended to target boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigners, and the British government trailed it to the media as a ‘BDS ban’.

With all this in mind, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (supported by War on Want, Campaign Against Arms Trade and the Quakers) brought a judicial review of the restrictions, to uphold the right to boycott.

One of PSC’s lawyers, Jamie Potter of Bindmans, said of the high court ruling: ‘This outcome is a reminder to the government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda.’