The UK government plans to make local council boycotts of countries and companies – particularly Israel – illegal, in new measures announced this week
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has unveiled plans to prevent council boycotts of companies and countries, unless they fall in line with central government policy.
The move aims to stop councils from purposely avoiding goods coming from Israel. The announcement would make following the British government’s foreign policies a legal requirement when councils buy goods and services – effectively outlawing any locally-imposed boycott.
Town hall boycotts undermine community relations
“We need to challenge and prevent divisive town hall boycotts which undermine good community relations,” said Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.
“No council should be boycotting any company or country unnecessarily – instead their main focus should be delivering the value for money taxpayers rightly expect.
“We will clampdown on these inappropriate and needless boycotts once and for all.”
Leicester City Council, Swansea City Council and Gwynedd Council all passed motions to boycott products from “illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, until such time as Israel complies with international law and withdraws from Palestinian occupied territories” between 2010 and 2014. Claims of discrimination were later dismissed by the High Court.
Councils’ ethical considerations?
The government published ‘guidance’ a year ago warning councils against what it called ‘inappropriate procurement policies’, but the new steps are set to go a step further and make such practices illegal.
The news was warmly welcomed by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who said: “We warmly welcome the Government’s measures to prevent town hall boycotts against Israel. These boycotts are divisive and undermine good community relations.”
No statement has yet been made by the Local Government Association, but the Financial Times reported last February – after the rules around pensions had been introduced – that councils “will always seek to promote democratic values”, which might include “taking ethical considerations . . . into account where due process allows”.