The UK government revealed its long-anticipated plan to ban the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign during yesterday's Queen's Speech. Delivering the yearly address to parliament, which outlines the government's agenda for the next session, Prince Charles said that the government will introduce "legislation [that] will prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts that undermine community cohesion".
The anti-BDS legislation will curtail the freedom of public bodies from adopting ethical positions against human rights abusers by proscribing boycotts and divestment campaigns against foreign countries. Though Israel is not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, it is widely understood that the aim of the Tory government is to shield Israel from the growing BDS movement, which seeks to end Israel's apartheid regime in Palestine.
In December Tory MP Robert Jenrick, who is a strong advocate of the Apartheid State, said that legislation would be passed to outlaw the BDS movement. Two months later he accused BDS of being anti-Semitic during a vote on the anti-BDS amendment to the public service pension. The BDS and Sanctions Bill follows a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment to preventing local authorities from "adopting their own approach to international relations."
Critics have slammed the anti-BDS legislation claiming it is part of a much broader assault on democracy and a crackdown on people's right to protest. "If passed, this law will stifle a wide range of campaigns concerned with the arms trade, climate justice, human rights, international law, and international solidarity with oppressed peoples struggling for justice," said a statement backed by 46 UK-based civil society groups.
"The proposed law presents a threat to freedom of expression, and the ability of public bodies and democratic institutions to spend, invest and trade ethically in line with international law and human rights," the statement added, calling on the UK government to "immediately halt this bill."
The group pointed out that boycotts have been a powerful tool against racial segregation and that sanction campaigns have been applied throughout history to put economic, cultural, or political pressure on a regime, institution, or company to force it to change abusive, discriminatory, or illegal policies.
In 2019 the British government suffered a major defeat in its attempt to proscribe BDS when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC). The PSC had raised concerns about threats to freedom of expression, government overreach in local democracy and the right of pension holders to have a say in the investment and divestment of their funds.
Following yesterday's announcement PSC Director, Ben Jamal, slammed the government and said that they will "prevail again." In the meantime the group has said that its first act will be to take to the streets of London this Saturday, to mark the 74th anniversary of the Nakba – and to protect the right to boycott."