19/01/2021 19:57 GMT | Updated 20/01/2021 07:48 GMT

Ex-Tory Leader Blasts Boris Johnson For 'Wilful Ignorance' Of Genocide After Commons Showdown

Rebels led by Iain Duncan Smith have failed to force the government to outlaw trade deals with countries committing atrocities.

Boris Johnson stands accused of “wilful ignorance” and “turning a blind eye” after Tory MPs voted down a Commons bid to outlaw trade deals with countries committing atrocities.

The prime minister’s working majority of 87 was slashed to just 11 as MPs voted to reverse a Lords’ amendment to the Trade Bill by 319 votes to 308.

The government also voted down separate attempts to exclude NHS data from trade deals and stronger scrutiny powers. 

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, who led the Conservative rebellion in the Commons on Tuesday, hit out at the prime minister for ordering MPs to vote down the genocide amendment.

Warning he would not give up, he wrote on Twitter: “Today’s rebellion shows the Govt can’t ignore calls to bring genocide cases before UK courts. We’ll continue to work on this amendment, considering all points MPs made today.

“I hope the @UKHouseofLords will ensure an improved amendment returns to the @HouseofCommons.”

He added: “The wilful ignorance of alleged genocide and grave human rights abuses in China and elsewhere must stop, we will not sell out our values for trade deals with genocidal states.”

It comes as the UK aims to strike new trade deals around the world amid growing international outrage over China’s treatment of the Uighur minority.

The change would have forced ministers to withdraw from any free trade agreement with any country which the High Court rules is committing genocide.

Conservative former ministers Nus Ghani and Duncan Smith led the bid to support the Lords amendment, which saw 33 MPs join with Labour and other opposition parties.

Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader

Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry appealed to MPs to back the genocide amendment. 

She said: “During this debate on trade and human rights and the surrounding media coverage, it would be very easy to tell ourselves that this is a discussion entirely about China and therefore entirely about deals that might or might not take place in the future.

“But the reality is it should and it must also be a debate about the deals that the government has done this month and the deals that it is openly planning to do in the next two years.

“Because anyone who cares deeply about the human rights of China must also have deep concerns about the records of Egypt, Turkey and Cameroon or Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Brazil.” 

Lib Dems foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran also criticised the government’s approach, saying ministers had “turned down a crucial opportunity to say ‘never again’”.

Referring to outgoing US secretary of state Mike Pompeo ruling China was guilty of genocide, she said: “On the same day that the US recognised what is happening in Xinjiang as genocide, the government has chosen to turn a blind eye and to not put human rights first. But this isn’t over – we will support a new amendment when the bill goes back to the Lords.” 

International trade minister Greg Hands said during the debate that the government would act before a country reached a situation where it could be accused of genocide.

He said: “I don’t think it would be right for the UK government to wait for a human rights situation in a country to reach the level of genocide – which is the most egregious international crime – before halting free trade agreement negotiations.

“Any responsible government would have acted before then.”