Matthew_Hancock

Matthew Hancock

Details of measures to prevent boycotts of Israel by public bodies in Britain are to be unveiled by a senior minister during a visit to the Jewish state this week.

Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock is expected to announce the plans, which will make it easier to take legal action against those behind boycotts.

The guidelines would apply to councils and NHS Trusts – from which Israel has been targeted in the past. But the Sunday Times reported it could also apply to universities and student unions.

Ahead of last year’s Conservative Party Conference, it was announced that the Government will amend pension legislation to make clear using pensions and procurement policies to pursue boycotts and divestments  against foreign nations and the UK defence industry are inappropriate, unless they are in line with action on a national level.  

The Conservatives rounded on the “militant actions of left-wing councils, spurred on by trade unions”. Communities Secretary Greg Clarke said at the time: “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.”

His predecessor Sir Eric Pickles, Conservative Friends of Israel parliamentary chairman said: “This  move by the Government 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. It encourages anti-Semitism and strives to make a municipal foreign policy contrary to the interests of the UK.”

A spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The Government’s decision to ban councils and other public bodies from divesting from trade or investments they regard as unethical is an attack on local democracy.

“People have the right to elect local representatives able to make decisions free of central government political control. That includes withdrawal of investments or procurement on ethical and human rights grounds.

“This Government’s ban would have outlawed council action against Apartheid South Africa. Ministers talk about devolution, but in practice they’re imposing Conservative Party policies on elected local councils across the board.”