Conservative MPs planning to vote against the Government on a Trade Bill amendment pressing China on its persecution of the Uyghur minority have told of whips’ “bullying and threats” behind the scenes.
Jewish groups are among those urging Tory MPs to resist toe-the-line calls from Downing Street on Tuesday as the Bill plus its amendment makes its way back to the House of Commons following overwhelming support in the Lords.
If passed, it would allow Britain’s most senior judges to rule on whether a third country was committing genocide, such is the claim against China. If they are found to be, it would force London to rethink its trade links with the perpetrator, a change ministers are fiercely resisting.
Support for the amendment cut the Government’s 80-seat majority in the Commons to just 11 last month, after calls from groups including the Board of Deputies and the Uyghur World Congress, which has worked with Jewish News for months to report the systematic abuses in Xinjiang.
#GenocideAmendment ???? // AN URGENT MESSAGE TO MPs. Don't be silent. VOTE.@MahmutRahima @UyghurCongress
— Jewish News (@JewishNewsUK) February 8, 2021
Dozens voted with their conscience, urged on by leading MPs such as former leader Iain Duncan Smith and former minister Nusrat Ghani, who has referred to Jewish News reporting in her campaign.
Now Conservative MPs say the Government’s whipping operation has moved into overdrive. One told The Telegraph: “They have been very heavy handed. Lots of bullying, cajoling, veiled threats being passed along.” Another said the whips had been “pretty tough”, adding: “It hasn’t been easy.”
Another revealed the extent to which the Government’s most senior figures have been involved in leveraging backbench support. “The Foreign Secretary does not ring backbenchers at home on a Sunday afternoon unless the Government is really, really worried,” they said.
Over the weekend Sally-Ann Hart, a Tory MP who rebelled for the first time over the amendment, issued a rallying cry. “Accounts of Holocaust survivors should be a call to action for all of us on Tuesday, to take a stand against such modern atrocities happening before our very eyes,” she said.
“We must all have the will to do what is right and to strive for morality in our actions.”
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