UK public bodies banned from imposing their own boycotts against foreign countries

New Bill will ban UK public bodies from imposing their own boycotts

UK public bodies will be banned from imposing their own boycott or divestment campaigns against foreign countries and territories, Michael Gove has announced today (Monday 19 June) fulfilling a 2019 manifesto pledge.

The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill - introduced in parliament today - sends a clear message to councils and other publicly-funded institutions that they need to focus on delivering for the public and not spending tax-payers’ money pursuing their own foreign policy agenda.

Those who break the rules will face significant fines with Ministers among those able to conduct investigations into suspected breaches.

Today’s Bill will stop businesses and organisations – including those affiliated with Israel -  being targeted through ongoing boycotts by public bodies – leading to community tensions and, in the case of Israel, a rise in antisemitism.

Universities, too, have been pressured by groups that want to impose their own subjective views about foreign policy upon public institutions: the goal often being to shut down rather than open up debate, serving to undermine free speech and educational study.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove said:

"It is simply wrong that public bodies have been wasting taxpayers’ time and money pursuing their own foreign policy agenda. The UK must have a consistent approach to foreign policy, set by UK Government.

"These campaigns not only undermine the UK’s foreign policy but lead to appalling antisemitic rhetoric and abuse. That is why we have taken this decisive action to stop these disruptive policies once and for all.

"My message to these organisations, is to get on with your job and focus on delivering for the public."

The President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews President Marie van der Zyl said:

"We are pleased to support the Government’s endeavours in the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill which will directly hinder the unnecessary and inappropriate targeting of Israel by local authorities and other public institutions.

"We appreciate how the Government is working to prevent these organisations from setting their own foreign policy, which all too often creates a deeply divisive local situation as well as being deeply unsettling to local Jewish communities."

The UK has a well-established sanctions policy which remains in place. Organisations with links to Russia and Belarus will still be prevented from benefiting from taxpayers’ money with councils able to terminate existing contracts with those linked to Putin’s barbaric war machine.

The changes announced today will ensure the UK is united in its foreign policy – stopping the harmful policies that are hampering our foreign diplomacy including those that are antisemitic.

The Government remains strongly committed to the UK’s long and proud tradition of free speech. The ban will not apply to individuals or private organisations, where they are not carrying out public functions. It will also not change the UK’s approach to the Middle East Peace Process, or our position on settlements, which are illegal under international law.

This Bill has been widely supported by the Jewish Leadership Council as is part of the Government’s wider commitment to combat antisemitism. This includes the Holocaust Memorial Bill which seeks to progress the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, Westminster to preserve the memory of what happened for ourselves and for all future generations as we seek to understand the lessons it teaches Britain today.

The Government will work with relevant public bodies and enforcement authorities on the implementation of the ban.

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP