Britain’s Parliament on Monday voted to advance a bill that will bar local councils and other public bodies from boycotting Israeli goods. The measure passed 268-70 with some Conservative members of Parliament opposing the bill, and Labour party MPs abstaining from the vote.
The government bill, advanced by Michael Gove, the minister in charge of local government (formally the secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and minister for Intergovernmental Relations), will ban public bodies from imposing economic boycotts on countries that are not already sanctioned by the government, with particular protection for Israel.
After passing its second reading, it now advances to a committee state later this year.
Gove has said that the bill seeks to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement, arguing that such initiatives are commonly accompanied by antisemitic discourse.
On Monday, ahead of the vote, Gove said that the bill “affirms the important principle that UK foreign policy is a matter for the UK government. It ensures local authorities focus their efforts on serving residents, not directing their resources inefficiently. And critically it protects minorities, especially Jewish communities, against campaigns that harm community cohesion and fuel antisemitism,” according to the Guardian.
The report said the Labour Party at first tried to block the vote on the bill before abstaining, allowing the measure to pass. Eighty-four MPs from the governing Conservative Party also abstained and two voted against the measure.
The Guardian said the Conservative MPs who abstained or voted against the government argued that the bill was too vague and “illiberal” and may hamper actions against other countries like China.
“We recognize the problem the [Gove] says this bill is needed to tackle. It is therefore deeply frustrating that the government has introduced a bill that is so needlessly broad, with such sweeping draconian powers … that he is faced with genuine legitimate heartfelt opposition from his own benches,” said Lisa Nandy, the shadow communities secretary from the Labour party, during the debate on the bill, according to the Guardian.
A commitment to advance such a law first appeared in a 2019 election campaign manifesto by the Conservative Party. This pledge was also featured in Queen Elizabeth II’s annual speech last year, a few months before she died at age 96.
Documentation that accompanied the queen’s speech cited as examples a decision by the city council of Lancaster to support Israel-related boycotts in 2021 and a similar move by the Leicester City Council in 2014. Other councils, including in Swansea and Gwynedd, have also previously launched boycotts of settlements, according to UK media.
The previous leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, had supported boycotts targeting West Bank settlements, though not blanket boycotts of Israel. He was eventually ousted from the party over numerous accusations of antisemitism and failing to take adequate action against antisemitic remarks and individuals within the party.
Corbyn’s successor, Keir Starmer, has sought to distance himself from Corbyn’s legacy, has taken comprehensive action to root out antisemitism, and has said the party does not support BDS.