POLITICS
08/02/2021 14:07 GMT | Updated 08/02/2021 14:54 GMT

Boris Johnson Warned ‘Genocide Is Not A Game’ By Tory Trade Rebels

PM faces another rebellion over trade deals with countries committing atrocities as MPs reject government-backed compromise plan.

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UK Uighurs and their supporters demonstrate through central London in 2009

Tory rebels will reject a government-backed compromise and insist that judges should have the power to pressure ministers not to sign trade deals with countries committing genocide.

The rebels are expected on Tuesday to back the so-called “genocide amendment” to the trade bill. The amendment would give MPs the power to block trade deals with any country that the High Court rules is committing genocide.

Last month, 34 Tories rebelled to back the amendment amid reports of abuses being carried out against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province, slashing Boris Johnson’s working Commons majority from 87 to just 11.

The prime minister is attempting to broker a compromise by backing a rival amendment from the Tory chair of the Commons justice committee, Sir Bob Neill.

The trade bill itself sets out a framework for implementing post-Brexit trade deals.

Neill’s amendment would take the power to decide whether a country is carrying out genocide away from judges and hand it to parliamentary committees before a vote of MPs on trade deals.

But Bob Blackman, one of the leading rebels and chair of the all party parliamentary group for Holocaust memorial, said: “Global Britain should be above this political gamesmanship. 

“Genocide is not a game.  

“What’s the point of having a policy on genocide that says it is a judicial matter, only then to propose a law which bans any UK court from getting involved?”

The PM’s official spokesperson criticised the rebel plan, saying it would “embroil the courts” in forming the UK’s trade policy.

On Monday, the spokesperson told reporters “the government shares the grave concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang” and understands “the strength of feeling on this issue”.

But they warned rebels their proposals “could embroil the courts in the formulation of trade policy and conduct of international relations, and risks undermining the separation of powers”.

“The amendment put forward by the chair of the select committee [Neill], which the government will be supporting, addresses the concerns raised by the parliamentarians to take a stand on credible reports of genocide by a prospective trade partner whilst ensuring a specific duty on government to act (to that stand),” the spokesperson said.

The House of Commons has an opportunity to lead the world again in standing up to tyrannical, genocidal regimesRebel Tory MP Nusrat Ghani

The Tory rebels have the backing of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which has drawn comparisons between what is allegedly happening in China and the Holocaust.

Human rights groups accuse China of imprisoning more than a million people, including Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic groups, in a network of concentration camps.

People have been subjected to torture, sterilisation and political indoctrination in addition to forced labour as part of an assimilation campaign in a region whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Han Chinese majority, the groups say.

China has denied all the charges and says the camps are for “re-education” purposes only.

But Tory Nusrat Ghani, another leading rebel, said the treatment of Uighurs by China is “chillingly similar” to the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany.

The MP met Holocaust survivor Dorit Oliver-Wolff on Monday to hear her testimony and discuss the rebel plan.

Following the meeting, Ghani said: “In the 75 years since the Nuremberg Trials, the UK and the UN have never been able to act in the face of an ongoing genocide. This amendment would at last change that.

“The government’s policy on genocide is that it is a judicial matter, yet then proceeds to ban courts from getting involved. 

“Even the prime minister once described the status quo as ‘baffling’.

“The new genocide amendment allows our respected UK courts to make a preliminary determination on genocide so that parliamentarians can then debate what needs to happen next in terms of who we trade with.  

“It will expose and prevent genocide and ensure Britain is never complicit in trading with genocidal regimes.  

“I know my constituents wouldn’t want to buy products that they knew were produced on the back of slave labour and genocide.

“Britain already leads the world on environmental standards and animal welfare, and when it comes to the Covid vaccine rollout, global Britain has been leading the way.

“This week the House of Commons has an opportunity to lead the world again in standing up to tyrannical, genocidal regimes and making sure that ‘never again’ actually means something.” 

Neill said his amendment was an attempt to find a compromise to the Tory split.

“I’d vote against a trade deal with China if there’s good evidence they are committing genocide,” he told HuffPost UK.

“But this is just a mechanism which doesn’t put the judiciary in an awkward political position.”