Several constituents have been in touch to express their views on the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, with some referencing EDM 1415.
Due my ministerial role, I am unable to sign EDMS, as doing so is likely to breach the Ministerial Code’s rules on collective responsibility.
Nonetheless, I completely appreciate the complexity of views regarding this issue and share constituents' shock about the cycle of violence recently witnessed across the West Bank, in particular in Gaza. I extend my sincere sympathies to those who have lost loved ones on both sides and I would like to assure constituents that the Foreign Office is constantly working with their counterparts in the region to bring an end to the violence.
I believe that the United Kingdom must speak with one voice internationally, and public bodies running their own foreign policies risks undermining our foreign diplomacy. It is simply not right for local authorities and public bodies to waste time and resources when they have key responsibilities to prioritise.
Regardless of this particular piece of legislation, the UK’s position on settlements is clear. They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and threaten the physical viability of a two-state solution. Having spoken with my colleagues at the Foreign Office I am assured the UK regularly raises its concerns on this issue with the Israeli authorities and urges them to reverse their policy of settlement expansion.
However, the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is deeply complex: settlements are not the only obstacle to peace. The people of Israel deserve to live free from the scourge of terrorism and anti-Semitic incitement, which gravely undermine the prospects for a two-state solution. As such, I believe local level boycotts can pit communities against one another and damage community cohesion.
While the UK should not hesitate to express disagreement with Israel wherever necessary, I know Ministers believe that imposing sanctions on Israel or supporting anti-Israeli boycotts would not support efforts to progress the peace process and achieve a negotiated solution. I share these concerns and completely agree.
While I understand those in favour of stricter controls, I believe there is a difference between legitimate reasons to criticise the Israeli Government and the nature of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which for almost 20 years has sought to delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state.
Indeed, I am deeply concerned by the rise in antisemitism that we have seen in this country, and I am particularly worried by the pattern of anti-Semitic behaviour which has been witnessed in connection with campaigns promoting boycotts against Israel, as evidenced in the Supreme Court.
Let me close by reassuring constituents that this proposed legislation will not restrict individuals’ right to freedom of speech. Nor will it apply to private organisations where they are not carrying out public functions.
I will continue to monitor the situation closely and provide an update in due course.