Keep up the pressure to defeat the anti-boycott bill – Peter Leary, Palestine Solidarity Campaign


“It is by no means a done deal that the anti-boycott bill will become law. A huge coalition of opposition to the bill has come together across civil society and our arguments are breaking through.”

By Peter Leary, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC)

The fight to defeat the government’s pernicious anti-boycott bill is entering a crucial stage. We need to take action now and keep up the pressure to protect the Right to Boycott.

On 3 July, the anti-boycott bill passed its first parliamentary hurdle when MPs voted to give it a ‘second reading.’ Despite the vote to move the bill forward, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and other civil society groups have taken heart from the debate, which demonstrated the huge scale of parliamentary opposition, even including from many Tories. Michael Gove will be facing a hot and uncomfortable summer as it is now clear that a real fight is underway before this toxic bill can reach the statute books. 

Two votes were held on the night. The Labour Party used a parliamentary procedure known as a ‘reasoned amendment’ to register its opposition to the bill as it stands and indicated a readiness to vote it down next time (at the third reading). This motion fell by 212 votes for, to 272 votes against. Unfortunately, Labour then instructed its MPs to abstain on the main vote on bill itself. As a result, the bill passed its second reading by 268 votes to 70. Ten sitting Labour MPs defied the whip, and voted against the bill, alongside MPs from all of the smaller parties except the DUP, several MPs sitting as independents (including Jeremy Corbyn), and two Conservatives.

What the government had not counted on, however, was the backlash it faced in the chamber.

Labour, Conservative, SNP, and Liberal Democrat MPs were among those who spoke in opposition to this alarming legislation that would prevent public bodies from making ethical choices about spending or investment. Some spoke in support of Palestinian rights while others highlighted the potential impact of this law on a wide range of campaigns for social and climate justice.

Many MPs warned of the bill’s damaging effects on local democracy, freedom of expression, and the rights of public sector pension scheme members, as well as on academic freedom and devolution. Labour MPs recalled their own involvement in boycott movements, including the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa, and the part played by local councils and universities. They pointed out that if this bill had been in place, many of those actions would have been prevented.

Following the first vote, the bill has now moved on to the committee stage before returning to the House of Commons. PSC, like many of the 70 other civil society groups who support the Right to Boycott, is preparing a submission to the committee. In our written statement, we will challenge the outrageous mischaracterisation of BDS campaigns and activists, and we will make the case for action in support of Palestinian rights.

We need to ratchet up the pressure on MPs of all parties. With enough encouragement, there is every chance that Labour and a substantial group of Tory rebels, can be persuaded to join with the SNP and most of the smaller parties and vote against the bill when it returns for its ‘third reading’ – most likely in October. 

More than 50 MPs so far have signed an Early Day Motion in opposition to the bill. Many CLPs have passed policy calling on the party to vote against it, and we will be bringing our message to TUC and Labour Party Conference. A range of resources – including model motions – is available on the PSC website.   

Back in June, as soon as the bill was tabled, PSC launched a petition to highlight public outrage at this attack on democratic rights. It will be handed in at the end of August, just before the committee is convened. For maximum impact, we need as many signatures as possible. If you have not done so already, please add your own name today.

It is by no means a done deal that the anti-boycott bill will become law. A huge coalition of opposition to the bill has come together across civil society and our arguments are breaking through. The debate in parliament should give us all fresh hope that it is possible for this bill to be defeated. But to make this happen, this summer we must turn up the heat on the government. Act now to defeat the bill and defend the Right to Boycott.

Featured image: Free Palestine demonstration held by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in London on March 24th, 2023. Photo credit: Ben Jamal/Twitter

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