On 10th January 2024, the House of Commons passed the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill. Also described as the 'Anti-Boycott Bill', this piece of legislation would make it illegal for local councils, universities and other public bodies to boycott or divest from foreign states if those decision diverge from national foreign policy.
The only geographies named in the bill explicitly are Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories - the conflation of the two, especially while one is committing atrocities against the other on an ongoing basis, is a cause for concern in efforts towards a diplomatic solution to the decades long occupation of Palestine.
The Bill, passed 282 to 235, has now moved to the House of Lords for a second phase of scrutiny.
Protecting public bodies' ability to undertake economic decisions independently, particularly based on their constituents' views, is a core part of democracy. As a national youth organisation, our ability to campaign at a devolved and local level is an essential part of our activities. Making the integration of ethical and human rights issues into procurement and investment decisions unlawful for public bodies is a significant step backwards regarding social accountability at an international level, with the potential to undermine human rights and climate action more widely.
This legislation also threatens to break international law, UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which declares that Israel's settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have no legal validity. The UK was a key contributor to this piece of international regulation, and the specific prohibition of targeted boycotts and divestment from Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a dangerous conflation of the two geographic areas.
This is an undemocratic, poorly-conceived and highly biased attempt to prevent the public from exercising its voice in opposition to Israel's ongoing war in Gaza and the atrocities it is committing.
We support and are signatories of the Right to Boycott Statement, and call for this Bill to be blocked by the House of Lords, and withdrawn by the government.