Rebels aim to insert genocide amendment in UK-China trade bill

The government is struggling to contain a potential backbench rebellion over its China policy after the Conservative Muslim Forum, the International Bar Association (IBA), and the prime minister’s former envoy on freedom of religious belief backed a move to give the UK courts a say in determining whether countries are committing genocide.

The measure is due in the Commons on Tuesday when the trade bill returns from the Lords where a genocide amendment has been inserted. The amendment has been devised specifically in relation to allegations that China is committing genocide against Uighur people in Xinjiang province, a charge Beijing has repeatedly denied.

It is understood that the former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is planning not to back the government either by abstaining or voting against unless further concessions emerge.

Rehman Chishti, the prime minister’s former envoy on freedom of religious belief, also said he would support the genocide amendment which won all-party support in the Lords.

A second amendment passed by the Lords would give parliament rights to reject a free-trade bill if it breached human rights or other norms.

The main controversy turns on the amendment to the trade bill passed in the Lords that proposes giving the UK high courts a role in determining if a genocide is under way. A government would then be required to refer to the court determination in making any free-trade agreement with the country accused of genocide.

The vote is on Tuesday and at present neither side is confident of the outcome. The amendment also has the influential backing of the British Board of Jewish Deputies.

READ  Uber accused of trying to deter drivers from seeking compensation

The Foreign Office has a host of practical objections, but is at present opposed to making any concessions on giving the domestic courts a role, saying it is a matter for the international courts. Ministers however recognise pressure is building for a tougher approach on China, and parliament is seeking a greater say over trade agreements.

The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, in rejecting the so-called genocide amendment, is also claiming the UK government would never enter a trade agreement with a country well before its behaviour had reached the egregious level of genocide. It also claims the issue is best determined in the international courts.

The backing of the IBA for the amendment is significant as the Foreign Office has been citing legal pitfalls in giving the high court a role in determining genocide.

In a letter to the foreign secretary, the IBA write: “There is no requirement under the Genocide Convention 1948, or any principle of international law, that requires a State to seek a determination of an international court, or other body acting under the auspices of the United Nations, that genocide has or is being committed before that State’s obligations under the Convention are engaged.

“There is a real concern that this position is used, or may be used, to justify inaction in the face of credible evidence that genocide is occurring.”

The letter signed by Schona Jolly, the IBA’s chair, adds: “Waiting for a judicial determination by an international court or body that genocide has been committed or is being committed, where it is not apparent that there is any likely or realistic route to such a determination, undermines the object and purpose of the obligation to prevent: to ensure, in so far as is possible, that genocide is never again committed.”

READ  Bright sparks

Ministers have previously said the UK had no plans to secure a free-trade deal with China. The country is the UK’s fourth-largest trading partner, sixth-largest export market and third-largest import market.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here