The government was accused of “tricks” and “arcane procedural games” to avoid voting on the Genocide Amendment, pressing China on its persecution of the Uyghur minority.
There was anger from backbench Tory MPs after Boris Johnson narrowly saw off a mutiny over the UK’s trade approach to countries suspected of committing genocide.
This comes after a Jewish News-led campaign to raise awareness about persecution of Uyghur Muslims by China’s north-western region of Xinjiang. It is thought that up to 1 million of the minority are locked up in ‘re-education’ camps, with reports of forced sterilisation, forced labour, abuse and mass surveillance.
MPs voted 318 to 303, a majority of 15, to remove two Lords amendments from the Trade Bill, including the Genocide Amendment, which would have forced ministers to withdraw from any free trade agreement with any country which the High Court ruled is committing genocide.
It was replaced by a Government-backed compromise aimed at giving Parliament a vote on whether to pursue agreements with such countries.
A total of 31 Conservative MPs rebelled to oppose the removal of the Genocide Amendment, which independent crossbencher peer Lord Alton of Liverpool is planning to re-table when the Bill returns to the Lords.
Former minister Nus Ghani, who led the Tory rebels, previously handed a JN-organised letter to Number 10 signed by 150 parliamentarians urging action to end persecution of Uyghur Muslims.
Following the compromise, she accused the government of using “every tactic and trick in the book to prevent a vote on the New Genocide Amendment”
“The Government first says that genocide is a ‘judicial matter’ and then attempts to outlaw the courts from getting involved, and now they’re banning Parliament from playing a role and voting as well. Is this really how we want our country to behave in the face of genocide?”
Ex Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who recently spoke at an emergency meeting called by the Board of Deputies on the issue, called for a “straight vote” on the amendment, saying: “The Government has run out of arguments and is now using arcane procedural games which demean our democracy and the House of Commons.”
This comes after Tory rebels accused the government whips of “bullying and threats” behind the scene, in a bid to stop the vote from passing.
During the vote, Trade minister Greg Hands argued the courts should not be involved in the trade deal process, and it should be for Parliament to “take a position on credible reports of genocide” relating to such deals.
The amendment in the name of Conservative Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Justice Select Committee, outlined that a select committee first publishes a report raising genocide concerns and the Government will respond in writing.
Sir Iain told MPs: “Today should have been a chance to stand tall, to send a signal to those who are without hope all over the world, whether it’s the Uyghurs or the Rohingya.
“Instead of a beacon of light and hope, today what we have done is go into the dark corridors of procedural purdah and we need to emerge.”
Ms Ghani also said she was “appalled at the parliamentary games played over such a grave issue”.
She added: “Let the record show that on this day men and women in this House were ready to vote on the genocide amendment, to lead the world in standing up to tyrannical regimes who commit genocide, to honour our vow of never again, to ensure we are never complicit in genocidal trade and to put Britain on the right side of history and today we were denied that vote and this House was denied its say.”
The Board of Deputies, which has been at the forefront of the campaign for the Genocide Amendment, reacted to the compromise with President Marie van der Zyl saying: “While we were disappointed that MPs did not get a chance to vote on the amendment this week, it now goes back to the House of Lords. We expect it to return to the House of Commons in due course, and we will once again give it our vocal support.”
“We are determined to continue to support the Uyghur people against the genocide which is currently being perpetrated and give them their day in court. We hope that we can move forward and work with the Government and MPs of all parties to do whatever we can to ensure that the terrible situation in Xinjiang is not allowed to continue.”
Rahima Mahmut, the London-based director of the World Uyghur Congress, said: “I am disappointed at the terrible tactics employed by the Government is denying the house of Commons a vote on the Genocide Amendment. However I am glad that the House of Lords will not stand for this, and is likely to send the Amendment back. Thank you to everyone involved”.
Mia Hasenson-Gross, executive director of Jewish human rights charity Rene Cassin said: “It seems the government has underestimated the growing public demand for meaningful action to counter China’s brutality against the Uyghur people.”
We understand that new proposals on how to do that will be presented to MPs next week. Whatever those proposals are must both address the gravity of China’s genocidal behaviour and mirror the now widespread revulsion it has engendered.”
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