Scotland poised to reject Michael Gove's bill to ban councils from Israeli boycotts

The Scottish Government has concerns on the proposed BDS and Sanctions bill


The Scottish Government is likely to refuse legal consent on a new bill to stop public bodies boycotting Israel, the JC understands.

It is understood the Scottish Government has reservations the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill could encroach on some local government matters devolved to Holyrood. 

The Westminster government is also concerned the SNP-led administration in Edinburgh could refuse legal consent to ‘stoke grievance’.

The dispute could put the UK Government on a collision course with the nationalist-run Scottish Government.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove announced the bill in the last Queen’s speech and introduced it to the Commons last week. Its aim is to stop public bodies, including councils and universities, enacting their own sanctions that are separate from those set by the government.

The bill, which would apply to the whole of the UK, specifically names only one country, Israel, saying the legislation should equally apply to the occupied territories and Golan Heights.

The Scottish Government can issue a veto – in the form of a legislative procedure known as a 'consent mechanism' under the Sewel Convention – over anything that gives UK ministers powers in devolved areas. 

MSPs in Holyrood then vote on the recommendation from Scottish ministers to refuse legal consent. However, refusing consent can sometimes cause delays and create friction between the two administrations.

A UK Government source said: “The Scottish Government has a record of stoking up grievances by refusing to back many important bills. 

“Simply playing political games with the Sewel Convention will not be acceptable. 

“Britain must have a consistent approach to foreign policy, set by the UK Government.”

A senior Scottish Government source said there were “some concerns over the bill” after officials had “discussions” with London counterparts.

An internal note written by Scottish Government officials on the wider concept of the bill from 2020 added: “In line with other governments in Europe, the Scottish Government does not have a policy of boycotting goods from any one country, nor does it advocate a policy of boycotting Israel.

“However, I should be clear that the Scottish Government expects companies that are awarded public contracts to maintain high standards of business and professional conduct and strongly discourages trade with companies active in Israeli settlements which are recognised as illegal under international law.

“This, however, is not advocating a policy of boycotting Israel, or any one country.” 

The Scottish Conservatives urged the SNP-led Scottish Government to back the legislation. Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw said: “These are sensible measures which have been backed by the Jewish community. 

“They rightly point out that councils and other public bodies have often acted well beyond their remit with gratuitous bans, making life very unsettling for Jewish communities.

“It may be predictable but nonetheless, it is nothing short of a disgrace that the SNP-Green government are not planning on following suit and are willing to hang Scotland’s Jewish community out to dry. 

“Ministers cannot be part-time in the fight against antisemitism. They must look again at this legislation and work constructively with the UK Government to ensure it is enacted in Scotland.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scottish Government officials have discussed the Bill with UK Government counterparts and are now examining its detail and impact on Scotland. 

“As required by the standing orders of the Scottish Parliament, Ministers will lodge a legislative consent memorandum setting out their view on whether consent should be given in due course”.

MSPs in Holyrood agreed to vetoes after recommendation from the Scottish Government on many bills including the 2020 UK Internal Market Act which was brought in to regulate trade between the four nations of the UK in the wake of Brexit.

They also voted to refuse to consent to the Professional Qualifications Act 2022, introduced to revoke the EU-based system for recognising professional qualifications gained overseas. 

The Scottish Parliament further refused to give consent to the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, due to concerns about the impact on devolution.

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