The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill is a government bill that aims to prevent public authorities participating in boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns. This is set out in clause 1 of the bill, which would prohibit public authorities from boycotting goods from, or disinvesting from, states or territories if to do so could be construed as being based on moral or political disapproval. The bill would also ban public authorities from stating that they intended to contravene clause 1, or from saying they would have contravened it had the law not been in place. 

There are provisions in the bill that would allow the government to make regulations specifying countries to which the measures would not apply. The government has said it intends to use this power to exempt Russia and Belarus from the ban, meaning public authorities could boycott or disinvest from these countries. A controversial clause in the bill states that Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Occupied Golan Heights could not be exempted by regulations; for these territories to be exempted would require primary legislation. These are the only territories named specifically in the bill. 

The government has stated that the bill is particularly intended to stop public authorities from supporting, or being pressured into supporting, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign that specifically targets Israel. It argues the BDS movement undermines community cohesion. During the bill’s passage through the House of Commons, most members participating in the debates expressed disapproval of the BDS campaign. However, the Labour Party, SNP and Liberal Democrats opposed the bill. Grounds for this opposition included that it would stop public authorities from expressing disapproval of states committing human rights abuses, and that it would contravene international law by conflating Israel with the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Occupied Golan Heights. 

The bill passed its Commons stages unamended.


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