Committee of MPs could rule if countries have committed genocide and should be blocked from trade deals with UK
A committee of MPs could be given new powers to investigate whether a country’s human rights breaches are so egregious that the UK should not strike free trade deals with it.
Ministers are said to be floating the proposal in a bid to head off a Tory backbench rebellion over China’s abuses against the Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
Senior Conservatives are currently pushing for an amendment to the Trade Bill which would hand British courts the power to determine whether a country the UK is negotiating a trade deal with is committing genocide.
If it found against the proposed trade partner, ministers would be forced to pull out of the negotiations.
However, the Government argues that the issue should be dealt with by Parliamentarians and is resisting the efforts, despite narrowly escaping a defeat in the Commons two weeks ago.
The latest proposal, according to the Guardian, would hand the Commons foreign affairs committee the ability to examine the human rights breaches of potential trade partners and to make recommendations to ministers.
If the Government refused to accept the recommendation, it would be put to Parliament for a vote.
The move is also likely to be interpreted as an attempt to drive a wedge between senior Tories Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who leads the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, and Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the committee and the China Research Group.
However, responding to the proposals, campaigners liaising with the Tory rebels said “no courts, no deal”, suggesting that it may fail to buy off the Government’s strongest opponents.
It is unclear whether it could be enough to avert a Government defeat.
Echoing their comments, Chris Bryant, a Labour MP on the committee, told the newspaper: “It’s an attempt to buy off a rebellion.
“The committee already has the power to produce a report or make recommendations, but even when the committee unanimously declared the treatment of the Yazidi as genocide, the government simply ignored it.
“The main point is that it should be a court, not a bunch of politicians that weigh the evidence and adjudicate on genocide. With China exercising an international veto, we need a domestic court to adjudicate. If we allow ourselves to be fobbed off with this, genocide will continue with impunity.”