A vocal Conservative lawmaker strongly criticized a contentious bill that prohibits local councils from boycotting Israel. Despite this, eight Tories voted against the bill.
Alicia Kearns, the current leader of the foreign affairs select committee for the Conservative party, expressed to the Guardian her concerns about the bill’s impact on free speech and its violation of international law, potentially causing the UK to be isolated internationally.
The bill was approved with a vote of 282 to 235, but eight members of the Conservative party voted against it. This may be embarrassing for its main proponent, Michael Gove.
Kearns stated that the bill has significant flaws in four main aspects: it contradicts our foreign policy, restricts freedom of speech, violates international law, and promotes a peculiar exceptionalism in UK primary legislation.
“We depend on the rules-based system to safeguard ourselves and our allies, but there is a possibility of violating UN Security Council Resolution 2334, a resolution that the UK played a key role in creating.”
The laws made by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities should not go against our foreign policy, or worse, weaken it and isolate us from the international community.
The Department of Gove’s representative stated that public entities implementing boycotts on foreign nations not only undermine the UK’s foreign policy, but can also contribute to division within our communities. This alteration fulfills the government’s campaign promises by preventing public bodies from using taxpayers’ funds to pursue their own foreign policy objectives and ensuring that the UK presents a united front on the global stage.
Kearns is a notable centrist in the Conservative party. Kit Malthouse, a close associate of Boris Johnson for many years, is also plotting to defy authority.
However, there is also concern from the right wing of the party regarding the proposed legislation. David Jones, the deputy chair of the European Research Group, intends to vote against the bill due to the privileges it gives to Israel.
This legislation aims to prevent government entities in the UK from implementing any form of punishment against a government that is not also facing sanctions from the UK government. Two councils, led by the Labour party, have declared that they will refuse to purchase goods from Israel as a form of protest against the nation’s actions towards the Palestinian territories under occupation.
Several members of the Conservative party have expressed their opposition to the bill due to its specific mention of Israel as deserving of special protection and its apparent inclusion of occupied territories in its definition of Israel.
Crispin Blunt and William Wragg opposed the bill during the second reading. A larger rebellion during the third reading would suggest a decline in influence for Tory whips since then.
The bill was expected by senior members of the Conservative party to create division within the Labour party on the contentious topic of Israel and Palestine. This is due to the conflicting views among Labour MPs, with some showing natural support for the Palestinian cause while party leader Keir Starmer aims to avoid any perception of antisemitism.
The report stage of the bill took place in October, shortly after the Hamas attack on southern Israel. Some opponents of the bill claimed it was a strategic political decision to use the attack for their own gain.
On Wednesday morning, Labour announced that it would instruct its MPs to vote against the bill. Wayne David, a Minister for the Shadow Foreign Office, stated on the Labour List website that the bill’s most harmful aspect is its treatment of the occupied Palestinian territories as equivalent to the State of Israel.
This goes against the long-standing diplomatic practices of both Conservative and Labour governments in Britain, and it could not have happened at a more inconvenient moment.