The following article by Stephen Topple was first posted by The Canary. It highlights the anti-democratic nature of the Tories’ Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. This is opposed by both the Scottish and Welsh governments, a welcome development.
WELSH GOVERNMENT FOLOWS ITS SCOTTISH COUNTERPART IN OPPOSING THE ANTI-BOYCOTT BILL
The Welsh government has announced that is formally opposing the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. The legislation, better known as the ‘anti-boycott bill’, aims to stop movements like Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) influencing public bodies to join in. However, the Welsh government is recommending that Wales‘ Senedd withhold its consent – following on from the Scottish government making the same decision.
The anti-boycott bill
If passed, the bill would prohibit procurement and investment decisions made by public bodies that are “influenced by political or moral disapproval of foreign state conduct”.
The bill sets out that the government can “specify a country or territory” for which the bill “does not apply”.
However, the text explicitly states that such exemptions “may not specify” decisions or considerations “relating specifically or mainly to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or the Occupied Golan Heights”.
Such public bodies include local councils and universities. As general secretary of Unite the Union Sharon Graham pointed out, the bill will specifically affect the Local Government Pension Scheme. She noted:
This is not the government’s money. It represents the deferred wages of our members, and they have every right to say how they want it invested and to demand divestment from companies complicit in attacks on workers and communities.
Moreover, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) pointed out that there was a “gagging clause” in the bill. This would mean public bodies would neither be able to “advocate” for or even discuss movements like BDS.
Strong opposition away from Westminster
Opposition to the bill has been strong. In August, the Scottish government formally opposed it. It stated that:
We are rightly proud of those in Scotland who took a stand against apartheid [in South Africa]. Under the provisions of this bill, many of them would have been silenced. For a government to outlaw the expression of ideas different to its own is wholly unjustifiable and entirely incompatible with the notion that we live in a functioning democracy.
Now, the Welsh government has done the same.
In a memorandum, the Welsh government recommended that the Senedd “rejects the proposals and withholds its consent” for the anti-boycott bill. Specifically, it noted that the bill was “disproportionate and unnecessary”. Rebecca Evans is the Welsh minister for finance and local government who wrote the memorandum. She said in it that:
I cannot recommend consent is given whilst questions remain as to the compatibility of this Bill with convention rights and international law. In addition, I note that there has been widespread criticism of this Bill from amongst the legal and academic community, in relation to the way it has been drafted and how it is intended to operate in practice. I share those concerns and it is imperative that the UK Government deals with them during the scrutiny of the Bill in the UK Parliament.
any attempt to delegitimise the Palestinian call for BDS and to suggest that Palestinians should be denied the right to appeal to people of conscience for support, must be rejected.
A ‘threat to democratic freedoms’
The PSC has welcomed the Welsh government’s decision. It said in a press release that:
All this follows months of campaigning by PSC and a coalition of more than 70 civil society organisations to demand the Welsh government and Senedd oppose the bill. Welsh Senedd members, including the leader of the governing Welsh Labour Party Mark Drakeford, were lobbied to oppose the bill as an attack on freedom of expression and the right of devolved administrations and public bodies to make ethical decisions around investment and procurement.
Director of PSC Ben Jamal said:
This principled decision by the Welsh Government is the latest blow to this pernicious bill. The Welsh Government has rightly identified the incompatibility of the anti-boycott bill with conventions of rights and international law.
This decision will add further weight to the growing opposition to this Bill – in the UK Parliament, Scottish government, across civil society and amongst the general public. We urge all of those who recognise the threat the anti-boycott bill poses to democratic freedoms to ramp up the pressure on MPs to ensure it is defeated when it goes back to Parliament for its next reading.
So far, Labour has only partially come out against the anti-boycott bill. While it has said that it opposes BDS as a policy, the party said that the bill is “deeply flawed and will not address the problem it rightly seeks to solve”.
The Green Party is yet to take a collective stance on the bill. It is set to vote on it during its autumn conference. The party’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, called the anti-boycott bill:
a major attack on freedom of expression, an erosion of fundamental democratic principles and a genuine threat to climate and human rights campaigns.