By Sir Vincent Fean
The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill was heavily mauled in debate in the House of Commons on 3 July, particularly in this excellent speech by Conservative MP Alicia Kearns (Chair of the influential Foreign Affairs Committee). Balfour Project chair Andrew Whitley had written to Sir Keir Starmer urging Labour to vote against the Bill. In the debate, Labour promised to do so if their amendment was not accepted (it will not be accepted). Nevertheless, the Bill passed to the next stage of scrutiny in the Commons – the Committee stage. The Bill Committee meets from 5 September, and has a built-in Government majority.
The Balfour Project is writing to that Committee setting out why the Bill should be withdrawn. Others, including Amnesty International, the Methodists and CAABU, are also writing to the Committee to express their opposition. Such memoranda remain confidential unless/until the Committee decides to publish them, as we hope it will.
The Bill is wrong on many levels. It would:
- curb freedom of speech
- prevent the devolved administrations, UK local councils and universities from taking ethical considerations into account when making overseas investment or procurement decisions
- conflate Israel with the territories it occupied militarily in 1967, thereby undermining long-established bipartisan UK policy on the illegality of Israeli settlements in occupied territory, and the resulting need to differentiate between sovereign Israel and those territories which it has occupied but where it is not sovereign.
Mr Gove contends that the Bill is intended to combat Antisemitism in the UK. But here the Union of Jewish Students unanimously decided to oppose the Bill, as has the British Jewish NGO, Yachad. Over 40 Israeli NGOs have written to the Conservative and Labour Parties urging them to ensure that the Bill is not enacted.
We will keep you informed as the Bill goes from the Commons to the Lords. We will continue vigorously to oppose it.
Sir Vincent is a trustee of the Balfour Project and former British Consul-General, Jerualem.