Local autonomy is all very well, but it shouldn’t extend to foreign policy.
The government has announced its intention of introducing new rules of local government procurement which will put a stop to politically motivated boycotts such as those directed at Israel, and which have caused such anger and alarm within the Jewish community and among Israel’s friends generally.
The government will amend pension legislation to make clear that using pensions and procurement policies to pursue boycotts, divestments and sanctions campaigns against other countries and the UK defence industry are inappropriate, unless they are in line with action on a national level.
There have been a number of high-profile attempts by UK local authorities to institute boycotts of Israel. These include Leicester City Council, which this summer voted to boycott goods from Israeli west bank settlements. However, apart from this example, it is not clear how many local authorities have actually voted to institute any kind of boycott. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that anti-Israel activists have been pushing for such boycotts.
Conservative Friends of Israel chairman Sir Eric Pickles MP said:
“This move is very welcome. The attempt by the irresponsible left to demonise Israel is bad for British business, bad for the local taxpayer, and deeply damaging to community relations.
Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:
“Divisive policies undermine good community relations, and harm the economic security of families by pushing up council tax. We need to challenge and prevent the politics of division. Conservatives will provide the stable, competent and sensible Government that working people want to see.”
Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said
“Conservatives are on the common ground. We will take steps to stop such outdated policies being pursued through procurement and pension policies. We will safeguard the security of families at home and prevent such playground politics undermining our international security.”
The party cited a number of other instances of the effect of boycotts, including the case of kosher food being removed from supermarket shelves during last year’s Gaza conflict and the controversy over the Tricycle Theatre’s call for the UK Jewish Film Festival to return funding from the Israeli embassy.
The Labour Party has yet to announce a clear line on the government’s present proposals.