Take action against discrimination

By Matthew Hancock MP, February 17, 2016

Let’s be clear.Town hall boycotts of Israeli goods undermine good community relations, poison and polarise debate, weaken integration and fuel antisemitism.

These locally imposed boycotts can roll back integration as well as hinder Britain’s export trade and harm international relationships.

It is precisely because we reject discrimination and support openness that we need to take action. So the new guidelines published on Wednesday are clear.

Discriminatory procurement boycotts are wrong and against the rules.

I want to pay tribute to the Board of Deputies, the Community Security Trust, Jewish Human Rights Watch, and of course the JC itself, which has done so much to keep this issue on the agenda.

Those public bodies carrying out these boycotts are in effect trying to impose a localised foreign policy. Foreign policy is rightly a matter for the Foreign Office. Councils do a vital job in delivering services for local people, and when they buy, they should do so on the basis of securing value for money, not pursuing their own ideological pet projects.

Here in Jerusalem, I have seen many brilliant Israeli companies who have so much to offer with their innovation, technology and enterprising spirit.

The World Trade Organisation Government Procurement Agreement — an international market access agreement — requires all countries that have signed up to it to treat suppliers equally.

This includes the European Union and Israel. Any discrimination against Israeli suppliers involving procurements would therefore be in breach of the agreement. By publishing this guidance, we’re underlining this international agreement and making it clear that no local council should deviate from Britain’s foreign policy.

The guidance also complements existing government guidance about trading or investing overseas, including with Israel, where we advise UK businesses to consider any potential legal and economic risks of doing so.

It is also in line with the government’s existing policy of support for clear and transparent labelling of settlement products to ensure that individual consumers are able to make informed choices before they buy.

This transparency is fair and does not discriminate.

This balanced approach is all about promoting fair and open trade between countries, whether Jewish or not.

We must stand up to discrimination and illegal boycotts, and strengthen the ties that bind us.

Matthew Hancock is Cabinet Office Minister and Paymaster General

Last updated: 5:26pm, February 18 2016