THE Government’s Bill to outlaw BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) by public bodies against Israel comfortably cleared its last hurdle in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening - although it was opposed by Labour and eight Tory MPs.
The Tory rebels included Alicia Kearns, chair of the influential Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, former Cabinet minister Kit Malthouse and Paul Bristow, the Peterborough MP who has already broken Tory ranks by calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Having passed its third reading, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Maters) Bill now heads to the Lords. It prohibits local authorities and other publicly-funded bodies such as universities from boycotting Israel and the Occupied Territories when procuring goods or services and making investment decisions.
The Bill is supported by national Jewish organisations, including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Controversy over the measure - which was a Tory manifesto pledge at the last general election - has focused on the fact that although it would ban boycotts introduced for political reasons directed against countries other than Israel, ministers could decide to lift them in certain circumstances, such as evidence that a country was causing environmental devastation or imposing slavery.
However, according to the Bill, the ban on BDS campaigns against Israel could only be lifted if Parliament repealed or altered it.
Introducing the debate, Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove said the Bill was “a targeted and proportionate approach to dealing with a unique evil” which would block the BDS campaign’s attempts to “use local government and other intermediate institutions and their legitimacy to undermine the UK Government’s foreign policy”.
“The UK Government – whichever colour of government it is – must speak with one voice on behalf of the whole United Kingdom when it comes to foreign policy matters,” Gove said.
In response Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said that while her party “completely opposes a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel” it believed the Bill was “deeply flawed”. She said that because it banned boycotts of both Israel and the Occupied Territories, it was “equating” them in law for the first time, which “undermines our country’s longstanding, consistent and cross-party support for a two-state solution”.
Malthouse said the Bill would threaten British attempts to broker peace and was “a source of great dismay” in the Arab world. According to Kearns, it was flawed in four separate ways: “It breaks with our foreign policy; undermines freedom of speech; goes against international law; and promotes an odd exceptionalism in UK primary legislation.”
The Bill was passed by a majority of 47, with 282 votes for and 235 against.