Welsh government follows Scotland in opposing anti-boycott bill

The Welsh Government has announced that it formally opposes a bill that aims to ban public bodies from participating in boycott and divestment campaigns.  

Introduced by Micheal Gove, the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill – dubbed the anti-boycott bill — is widely seen as a tactic to limit Palestinian solidarity.  

The Welsh government follows the Scottish government’s decision in August to oppose the bill. It adds to increasing cross-party objections to the bill seen in the Commons in July and reflects a wider nationwide resistance.

The successful ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS)’ movement is a response to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.

The proposed legislation would bar institutions such as local governments, public pension funds, and universities from making investment and procurement decisions “influenced by political or moral objections to the actions of foreign states.”

Critics say the bill shields Israel from legitimate human rights concerns and would constrain advocacy against other global abuses, like China’s persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

In a memorandum, the Welsh government recommended that the Senedd “rejects the proposals and withholds its consent” for the anti-boycott bill. It said the bill was “disproportionate and unnecessary”.  

“I cannot recommend consent is given whilst questions remain as to the compatibility of this Bill with convention rights and international law,” said Rebecca Evans, the Welsh minister for finance and local government.  

“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.”

Strong opposition

Opposition to the bill has been strong. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other rights groups have challenged the bill. They argue it would erode civil liberties, free speech, and threaten advocacy for social and climate justice.

This week, the Palestinian leadership committee of the BDS movement warned the campaign will damage the UK’s standing in the Arab world.

In written testimony to a parliamentary committee scrutinising the bill, the BDS National Committee accused the government of “doubling down” on “complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights” through the anti-boycott bill.

It described the bill as “an anti-democratic, anti-Palestinian attempt to suppress peaceful solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian rights”.

“Aside from its attack on democracy, freedom of expression, and its singling out the Palestinian people for repression, if this anti-Palestinian repressive bill is enforced, it would further erode UK standing and relations in the Arab region,” it said.

It also condemned the committee’s failure to invite representatives from the movement or Palestine Solidarity Campaign to give in-person testimony.

In August, the Scottish government formally opposed the bill. “We are rightly proud of those in Scotland who took a stand against apartheid [in South Africa],” it stated.

“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.”

In June, a group of high-profile Tory backbenchers – including the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, and former Conservative Party leader, Sir Ian Duncan Smith — publicly criticised the bill.

At its annual congress last week, the TUC passed a motion opposing the bill for its trade union members and the millions of workers represented.

In the motion, the TUC said: “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.”

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