UK plans anti-BDS law after court rules against gov’t ban on boycotts

UK plans anti-BDS law after court rules against gov’t ban on boycotts


“We are committed to ensuring public bodies take a consistent approach to investments and to stop local boycotts.”

Head of Supreme Court of the United Kingdom Lady Brenda Hale announces ruling, that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful, ahead of Brexit, at the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in London, Britain September 24, 2019, in this still image taken from S / (photo credit: SUPREME COURT/PARLIAMENT TV VIA REUTERS)

The UK plans to pass a law banning local councils from boycotting countries in their pension funds, after the Supreme Court overturned a government order to that effect.

A spokesperson for the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We are committed to ensuring public bodies take a consistent approach to investments and to stop local boycotts. We will therefore bring back new legislation that addresses the technical points raised by the Supreme Court.”

The law follows the Conservative Party’s manifesto in last year’s election, which included a commitment to “ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries.”

Last week’s ruling came after the Palestine Solidarity Campaign challenged a 2016 UK government guidance to local councils on how they invest their pension funds, which states that they may not institute policies of Boycotts, Divestments or Sanctions – known as BDS – “contrary to UK foreign or defense policy.”

The guidance applied to 89 pension funds in England and Wales, benefiting five million former and current local council employees.
The government argued that the guidance was meant to make sure defense and foreign policy were not undermined by local boycotts.

A three-to-two majority of the Supreme Court’s judges ruled that the BDS ban was against the law, with Justice Robert Carnwath saying decisions about pension fund investments were “judgments to be made by the administering authority, not by the secretary of state,” the Financial Times reported.

Lord Wilson, another Supreme Court justice, said that using the guidance “to enforce the government’s foreign and defense policies” is illegal and that the guidance issued by Conservative MP Sajid Javid, who was secretary of state for Communities and Local Government at the time, “went beyond his powers… because they were choices to be made by the authorities, not by central government.”

Palestine Solidarity Campaign chairman Kamel Hawwash called the ruling “a major win, not just for the campaign for Palestinian rights, but for the fundamental principles of democracy, freedom of expression and justice.”
“The government should be acting to uphold international law and defend human rights, not attacking peaceful campaigners,” Hawwash added. “PSC will continue to resist any attempts to suppress BDS activism.”

Conservative Friends of Israel’s leadership said: “The Supreme Court’s technical ruling on local authority divestments serves to reinforce the importance of the government’s forthcoming legislation. We reiterate our strong support for the Conservative Government’s manifesto commitment to ban public bodies from imposing their own boycotts, divestments and sanctions, which have all too often sown discord within local communities.”

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