New measures to prevent British councils from boycotting Israel have been announced by Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.
The move aims to stop councils from introducing restrictions on the companies and countries they use – with a particular focus on boycotts of goods from Israel.
Under the plan local authorities would be required by law to treat suppliers fairly and in line with the British government’s policies.
Announcing the plans today, Mr Javid said: “We need to challenge and prevent divisive town hall boycotts which undermine good community relations.
“No council should be boycotting any company or country unnecessarily – instead their main focus should be delivering the value for money taxpayers rightly expect.
“We will clampdown on these inappropriate and needless boycotts once and for all.”
The World Trade Organisation already requires all member countries to treat suppliers equally and without prejudice.
Sir Eric Pickles, Conservative Friends of Israel chairman, said: “Attempts to boycott Israel are bad for Israelis, Palestinians, and the British economy, and are deeply damaging to community relations.
“These new regulations are to be warmly welcomed. The measures will further prevent politically-motivated council boycotts, which run counter to government foreign policy”.
A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies said: “We warmly welcome the government’s measures to prevent town hall boycotts against Israel.
"These boycotts are divisive and undermine good community relations. The new steps will ensure that all suppliers of goods and services receive equal treatment and do not need to fear prejudice.”
Jewish Human Rights Watch, which has led campaigns against councils which had implemented boycotts of Israeli goods, said: "For too long BDS Jew-hate has been allowed to fester in the UK.
"It has spread from certain councils to universities, which is unacceptable. Today we are congratulating the UK government for announcing this new law to stop Jew-hate.
"Frankly, it just doesn’t wash anymore that with dozens of disputed conflicts around the world it is only the Jewish state that is once again singled out for another boycott. History should have taught us this lesson."
JHRW said it had launched an effort at the Court of Appeal against a boycott organised by Leicester City Council.
Rules were introduced last year which prevented councils from using local government pension policies to introduce boycotts.
Cabinet Office guidance was also introduced in February 2016 on the procurement of goods and services by public bodies.
Today’s announcement applies to councils, and would make following the British government’s foreign policies a legal requirement when buying goods and services – effectively outlawing locally-imposed boycotts.
The new legislation would make it easier for the government to legally challenge organisations which boycott Israel.
Ministers were concerned in 2016 about the actions of some Labour-led authorities which were threatening to “poison community relations and harm Britain’s economic and international interests”.
A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had attacked the plan, calling it "an attack on local democracy".