Dangerous Conservative plans put local democracy and political freedoms at risk

Conservatives plan to ban local government from making independent, ethical decisions about procurement and investments

For immediate release

The UK Conservative Party has announced plans to ban local councils from using ethical procurement policies and divesting from companies complicit with Israel’s occupation and settlements and UK arms companies.

The plans were announced in a press release sent out on Saturday 3 October, the eve of Conservative Party Conference. They were launched by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with the support of Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

The press release announced plans to amend the Local Government Pension Scheme to say that boycott, divestment and sanctions (‘BDS’) should only be used where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government. The Cabinet Office Procurement Policy will similarly advise local councils ‘that boycotts in procurement policy are inappropriate, outside where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’

The proposed measures run counter to current Government advice on business with Israeli settlements. On the FCO website there is warning to businesses relating to settlement activity:

“[there] are therefore clear risks related to economic and financial activities in the settlements, and we do not encourage or offer support to such activity. Financial transactions, investments, purchases, procurements as well as other economic activities (including in services like tourism) in Israeli settlements or benefiting Israeli settlements, entail legal and economic risks stemming from the fact that the Israeli settlements, according to international law, are built on occupied land and are not recognised as a legitimate part of Israel’s territory. This may result in disputed titles to the land, water, mineral or other natural resources which might be the subject of purchase or investment.”[i]

Campaigners have reacted with anger and disbelief at this attack on local democracy and the political freedoms of campaigners.

Hugh Lanning, Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said:

“These proposals to restrict ethical decision-making at a local level is an authoritarian response to the amazing growth in the UK of a movement for peace and justice for Palestine. The latest figures show how influential the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions has become.

The measures proposed are a profoundly undemocratic way of undermining UK foreign policy and international law. Announcing these proposals on the eve of Conservative Party conference, in the guise of attacking the Labour leadership, is political party posturing.

It is at odds with the Government’s own longstanding policy, in line with international law, that settlements are illegal. It also contradicts UK Foreign Office (FCO) warnings to business about the financial, legal and reputational risks of working in or with Israel’s illegal settlements. It is incredible to think that UK foreign policy could be over-ruled in such a way.

Forcing councils to put big business interests ahead of ethics and international law is not only risky and bad business practice, it is a gross interference in local democracy and entirely unjust. Companies profiting from Israel’s occupation and settlements have rightly come under increasing scrutiny. Pressure is mounting on them to take an ethical stand and end their complicity; and pressure is mounting against arms companies which are profiting from war crimes resulting in the death and destruction of Palestinian men, women and children. Rather than attempting to block this surge of support for human rights, governments including our own should act to uphold human rights and international law.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign will be challenging this profoundly undemocratic and regressive policy proposal.”
ENDS 

Notes

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/overseas-business-risk-israel/overseas-business-risk-israel#business-and-human-rights