Speaking to LabourList, the shadow secretary for communities and local government said “This is another nail in the coffin for free speech from this Tory government. The Trade Union bill, regulations on charities lobbying and contract clauses for organisations that receive a public grant show the Conservative government is stifling any political speech which could criticise them.”
The government guidance is expected to outlaw procurement boycotts against individual nations, claiming they are “inappropriate”, other than where sanctions or embargoes have been imposed. Penalties will be imposed on any organisation found to be breaking the rules.
The Conservative government has claimed that political boycotts undermine national security. Matthew Hancock, the Conservative minister for the cabinet office, is set to announce the policies to coincide with a trip to Israel – the subject of the high-profile Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign which boycotts the state “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights”.
Many councils have pro-BDS policy, including Tower Hamlets in London. Councillor John Pierce, a Labour councillor from Tower Hamlets, commented on the new rules:
“It’s ridiculous. Councils should have the ability – as political entities – to make political decisions. This is a regressive step, councils should be able to make decisions free from government interference”.
These regulations come at a time where trade unions’ political campaigning has been threatened by the Trade Union Bill and charities can no longer use their grant money to lobby government, both of which have been criticised for threatening the free speech of political organisations.
Jeremy Corbyn was a vocal critic of South Africa when it was the subject of boycotts for being an apartheid state. He has also condemned the Government for an “attack on local democracy”.
A spokesperson for Corbyn told The Independent: “People have the right to elect local representatives able to make decisions free of central government political control. That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds.”