QUAKERS have joined nearly 70 civil society organisations in calling on MPs to reject the United Kingdom government’s controversial anti-boycott bill, tabled this week.

If passed, the bill would stifle campaigns for justice, erode democracy and threaten freedom of expression, the organisations said in a joint statement.

Under the proposed legislation, public bodies including local councils could be forced to follow UK foreign policy in their purchasing, procurement and investment decisions.

Signatories to the statement, who include Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, say that the new law would stop the use of the tactics that helped liberate South Africa from apartheid, stifling campaigns from fossil fuel divestment to arms embargoes. The bill includes a “gagging clause” forbidding all those subject to the proposed law from even stating that they would support taking a moral stance if it were permissible to do so.

It is the latest in a string of repressive legislation in England and Wales, including the Policing Act, the Public Order Act and the Illegal Migration Bill, and represents a threat to fundamental rights to hold government and institutions to account.

The UK government has framed this legislation around opposition to boycotting and divestment of companies connected with the occupation of Palestine, advocated by groups concerned about the violation of Palestinian rights. The only reference to specific countries or territories in the bill states that “Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or the Occupied Golan Heights” are categorically protected from boycott and divestment initiatives in public bodies. This would be the first time a piece of British law requires the state of Israel and the territories it illegally occupies to be treated in the same way.

However, this legislation would also stifle campaigns around human rights and international law and have a chilling effect on those concerned with the arms trade and climate justice,.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, said: “As Quakers, we find nonviolent tools such as divestment from unethical companies are vital in realising positive change in the world. We are concerned that the legislation will stop public bodies from divesting from companies involved in violations of international law or human rights. We urge MPs to reject this bill.”

A previous attempt by the government to prevent ethical boycott and divestment campaigns was overturned by the Supreme Court in May 2020.

* Read the full statement here.

* Source: Quakers in Britain