UK bill targeting boycotts taken to committee stage in parliament

UK bill targeting boycotts taken to committee stage in parliament
2 min read
05 September, 2023
A controversial bill aimed in part at preventing public bodies from taking economic action against Israel has been sent to the committee stage of the UK's parliament.
Critics of the anti-boycott bill say it could stifle freedom of expression [Oli Scarff/Getty-archive]

A controversial bill aimed in part at preventing public bodies from taking economic action against Israel was sent to the committee stage of the UK's parliament on Tuesday.

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons in July, but has come under intense criticism from across party lines and from human rights groups, who say the bill stifles freedom of expression.

The bill will now be given a detailed reading by a parliamentary committee. The committee is able to take evidence from experts and interest groups outside parliament, and make amendments to its text.

The bill was first introduced in June, and pressure to scrap it has been ongoing since. Last week, a delegation representing more than 70 civil society groups handed a petition to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at 10 Downing Street, calling on him to ditch the bill.

"Opposition to this bill is growing because it threatens, not just the ability of public bodies to take part in boycott and divestment campaigns in support of Palestinian rights, but all those who seek change through peaceful and democratic means," Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK (PSC) director Ben Jamal said in a statement released after the petition was handed in.

In a recent exclusive interview to The New Arab, Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel accused the UK government of "trying to silence" advocates of Palestinian rights.

While the proposed bill does not criminalise BDS outright, it would apply to procurement and investment decisions by public bodies like local councils, preventing them from carrying out their own economic campaigns against foreign states.