Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has threatened to take investment decisions away from local councils if they choose to boycott Israel.
The stark warning comes amid new government guidance aimed at preventing local authorities deciding against purchases from companies or countries on ideological grounds, amid growing recognition that unions are urging a boycott of Israel.
Javid, who was business secretary under former prime minister David Cameron, said: “Wildcat boycotts and sanctions have no place in these crucial [investment] decisions, and I will not hesitate to act if any council decides to introduce restrictions that are not in line with UK foreign and defence policy.”
His department warned that “any council found flouting these rules could face action, including the possibility of having power over these investment decisions taken away, with central government stepping in instead”.
Unions have long supported a boycott of Israel: the largest, UNISON, first voted to do so ten years ago, in June 2007. Since then, several councils have opted to do so, including two in Wales, four in Scotland and one in Northern Ireland, but legal challenges have reversed many decisions.
Companies to have been targeted include security contractor G4S, technology giant Hewlett Packard and Eden Springs, which provides water coolers and coffee machines.
However, in February this year, the government announced local councils, public bodies and student unions to refrain from boycotting Israeli goods, a move which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said was “an attack on local democracy”.
Earlier this week, Javid addressed Jewish religious leaders at the Chief Rabbi’s Conference, paying tribute to interfaith work around the country, including Rabbi Natan Levy’s initiative to bring together Jewish, Muslim and Christian girls to learn computer coding together.