Mail Online – 19 January 2021
Boris Johnson narrowly avoided an embarrassing Commons defeat on foreign policy tonight as Tory MPs rebelled in an attempt to force a hardline approach to China's domestic human rights abuses. The Prime Minister's working majority of 87 dwindled to just 11 as MPs voted to reverse an amendment to the Trade Bill made by the House of Lords by 319 votes to 308. The changes made by peers would have forced ministers to withdraw from any free trade agreement with any country which the High Court rules is committing genocide. In its sights was the hardline Communist regime in Beijing, which has been accused of appalling human rights abuses against its Uighur Muslim minority in Xianjing, including using them as forced labour.
Some 33 Tory MPs broke the whip to vote for the amendment, with a further nine abstaining. They were a mixture of hardline China hawks and centrists with human rights worries. Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith led those voting against the Government, who also included ex-ministers Tobias Ellwood, Damian Green, David Davis and Tracey Crouch, and committee chairmen Julian Lewis and Tom Tugendhat. Those abstaining included former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee. It comes as US secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his last day in office to say China's policies on Muslims and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang constitute 'genocide'.
"After careful examination of the available facts, I have determined that since at least March 2017, the People's Republic of China, under the direction and control of the Chinese Communist Party, has committed crimes against humanity against the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other members of ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,"
Pompeo said in a statement.
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Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, who is leading the drive for the change, said:
"Britain must not look the other way on the genocide that is happening today in China. This is our first chance outside the EU to show what Global Britain stands for."
Mr Hunt told The Times:
"I feel very strongly about this. I was always very struck having visited the genocide memorial sites in Rwanda that Bill Clinton thought his biggest mistake was that he didn't intervene ... I think there's something very powerful about the fact that a UK court could make a determination."
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Trade Minister Greg Hands told the Commons this afternoon:
"To accept this specific amendment would allow the High Court to frustrate, even revoke, trade agreements entered into by the Government and approved after parliamentary scrutiny. This is a completely unprecedented and unacceptable erosion of the royal prerogative and not something the Government could support. It is for the Government, answerable to Parliament, to make trade policy, not the courts."
"We do not have a bilateral trade agreement within the scope of this Bill with China. We have no plans to do a bilateral trade agreement with China."
But Sir Iain, the former Tory leader, urged MPs to support the amendment, telling the Commons:
"This is not anti-China but it is anti-genocide and we need now to stand tall. We left the European Union because we didn't want to accept judgments from a court that we say we didn't have power over. But we didn't come away because we disliked our courts. I think we have the best courts in the world, and I think they can make this judgment. And my question, therefore, is what is it about? Why are we leaving? Why did we leave? And the answer is so that we would stand tall and have a global vision about the morality of what we do.
"I simply say to my colleagues and to the frontbench, tonight is more than just pettifogging, tonight is all about simply shining a light of hope to all those out there who have failed to get their day in court and failed to be treated properly. If this country doesn't stand up for that then I want to know what would it ever stand up for again? I urge my colleagues to vote to keep the amendment that is from the Lords in this Bill."
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Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was asked on Sunday if he thought the treatment of the Uighur minority group in China was genocide. He said:
"I think it's for a court to decide whether the very complex definition of genocide is met. But what is clear, frankly, whatever legal label you put on it, is that there are convincing and persuasive third party authoritative reports of serious violations of human rights on an appalling industrial scale."
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has said it is backing the calls for the British courts to be given a new role in determining if the Uighur people are suffering genocide in China. The amendment would allow domestic courts to declare if genocide is occurring in another country and it would prevent the UK trading with any country the High Court rules is committing genocidal acts.
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