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Vote Over Anti-Genocide Trade Laws Will Be "Tight", Claims Senior Tory

4 min read

Tory whips are attempting to head off another large rebellion among their own MPs over the rules around striking trade deals with countries that are judged to have committed genocide.

Dozens of Conservatives are expected to try and defeat an amendment to the Trade Bill tomorrow which would give politicians, rather than the UK High Court, the power to stop the UK trading with countries that are accused of human rights abuses.

The backdrop to the growing rebellion is China’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim population in Xinjang, where thousands of people are said to be living in concentration camps with reports of sterilisation of women and the forced removal of children from their families. China denies there is abuse of the Uyghur people.

Former Conservative party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is among the rebels and has been an outspoken critic of the treatment of the Uyghurs, said the voting tomorrow was going to be “tight” and they could win.

“If it wasn’t tight the government wouldn’t be ringing everybody, as they are, as we speak,” he said.

The Tory rebels want the High Court to be given the power to make a judgement on trading with countries that have committed human rights abuses and genocide. This change to the Trade Bill was added by Lord Alton in the House of Lords with widespread support.

The Bill is now back in the Commons for another round of voting and tomorrow MPs are being presented with a compromise amendment, which would give politicians a greater say over trade deals rather than the High Court.

This has been tabled by the chair of the justice select committee, MP Bob Neill, and has ministerial backing.

If this is defeated, the Bill is likely to be sent back to the House of Lords, where an amendment giving power to the High Court over genocide and trade is expected to be tabled again in another round of Parliamentary "ping-pong". 

Sir Iain said: “The public has already made its mind up that China does not act as a benevolent friend. It exacts a price, that price for any trade is silence and not to upset them and that’s what’s going on.

“The record of this country is appalling. The Uyghurs are desperate to have their case heard.

“We’ve left the European Union, and we’re now on the global stage, what’s the problem? The truth is deep in the bowels of the government, they want to do some kind of economic and trade arrangement. They daren’t say it.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab has previously said that involving the High Court is problematic because it doesn't have the resources to make judgements on genocide, however he said the UK should not be engaging in free-trade with any country abusing human rights, "well below the level of genocide."  

Sir Iain said the government has argued repeatedly that only a court can decide on whether a country has committed genocide, so it did not make any sense to say a court should not be allowed to make judgements on trade matters and genocide.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “The government shares the grave concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

“On this issue however that amendment could embroil the courts in the formulation of trade policy and the conduct of international relations and risks undermining the separation of powers.

“The amendment put forward by the chair of the select committee, which the government will be supporting, addresses the concerns raised by the parliamentarians to take a stand on credible reports of genocide by a prospective trade partner whilst ensuring a specific duty on the government to act.”

The House of Commons has already rejected an amendment that would have given powers to the High Court to revoke bilateral trade agreements if the signatory had committed genocide on January 19 by just 11 votes.

There were 34 Tory rebels at that point including Bob Blackman, Andrew Bridgen, and former ministers Tracey Crouch, David Davis, Tobias Ellwood and Caroline Nokes. It is not known how they will vote tomorrow. 

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