Thank you for contacting me about boycotts by public institutions.
The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill will stop public bodies pursuing their own foreign policy agenda, including with public money, through divisive boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaigns.
Ministers believe that the United Kingdom must speak with one voice internationally and that public bodies running their own foreign policies risks undermining our foreign diplomacy. They believe it is not right for local authorities and public bodies to waste time and resources when they have key responsibilities to prioritise. They are also concerned that local level boycotts can pit communities against one another and damage community cohesion. In particular, in the case of boycotts against businesses and organisations affiliated with Israel, there has been a horrific rise in antisemitic rhetoric and abuse which Ministers believe must be stamped out.
Ministers are clear that the proposed legislation would not restrict individuals’ right to freedom of speech. Nor will it apply to private organisations, where they are not carrying out public functions. The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill will extend to public institutions (as defined in the Human Rights Act 1998) only.
The UK has a well-established sanctions policy which remains in place. Ministers have been clear that organisations with links to Russia and Belarus will still be prevented from benefitting from taxpayers’ money with councils able to terminate existing contracts with those linked to Putin’s war machine.
Foreign policy is understandably the reserve of national government and Ministers believe it cannot be right for public institutions to have the power to make divisive decisions which set different parts of the community against each other.
For more information, below see the attached letter from the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Lord MP
Member of Parliament for Woking