Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson facing major Conservative rebellion in Commons over ‘genocide amendment’ row

Boris Johnson facing major Conservative rebellion in Commons over ‘genocide amendment’ row

Ashley Cowburn

·5 min read
 (via REUTERS)

Boris Johnson is facing a major Conservative rebellion unless ministers accept the so-called genocide amendment that aims to prevent trade deals with countries deemed to be committing atrocities.

It follows a third crushing defeat for the government in the House of Lords over the issue that has been given renewed focus amid international outcry over allegations of human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority in China’s Xinjiang province.

The Independent has been told that at least 30 Tory MPs could defy the whip when the Trade Bill returns to the Commons on 22 March — potentially threatening the prime minister’s considerable majority.

Spearheaded by the crossbench peer Lord Alton, the original proposal would have forced ministers to review any bilateral trade agreements with countries the High Court had determined to have committed acts of genocide.

After the government narrowly avoided defeat in January, the fresh amendment has stripped out mention of the High Court and instead calls for the creation of a “parliamentary judicial committee” of five members of the Lords who have held senior positions in the judiciary.

The body would examine claims of abuses and make a “preliminary determination” on whether there is sufficient evidence that a country party to a trade agreement with Britain has carried out genocide. If a determination is made a minister must respond to parliament and the government would be under immense pressure to review any trading relationship.

Speaking to The Independent, the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, said: “Many MPs in the Commons who weren’t sure, didn’t want to vote for a court of law, see that this is a compromise. This is the right way to go”.

The senior MP, who has held discussions with senior ministers over the issue, added: “It’s a compromise that utilises the incredible skills and experience of the Lords by using retired law Lords — you can’t get anybody better to sift evidence and to understand it.

“It’s not a court, so the government’s concern about it going to a court is met. It stays in parliament. They kept saying we voted for Brexit so parliament will be stronger — answer is parliament will be stronger.”

Imran Khan, a member of the 2019 intake of Tory MPs who is considering voting for the measure, added: “I am a really, truly loyal Conservative who supports the prime minister with great enthusiasm and it causes me great personal grief and torment to be divergent on a matter of policy with a government I support.”

While the amendment does not specifically mention China, Tory MPs have become increasingly vocal about the treatment of the Uighur people. Despite denials from Chinese authorities, the United States has accused Beijing of genocide while the BBC, which is now banned in country, has reported allegations of women in “re-education” camps being systematically raped, sexually abused and tortured.

Nusrat Ghani — a former government minister who is supporting the amendment — asked: “We have tremendous world-leading standards on the environment, on dealing with animal welfare, why would we not have world leading standards to ensure that we’re not offering preferential trade deals with genocidal states?”.

Another Tory MP backing the measure, Bob Blackman, said: “We’ve got to be very cautious about trading with countries, such as China, when they treat the Uighur Muslims in such a disgraceful way.

“The sort of compromise we’ve suggested is one that I think everyone should be able to live with.”

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy claimed that the despite ministers’ “tough talk” on China the government was “privately talking up the prospects of a free trade deal” with Beijing.

She told The Independent: “When the amendment returns to the Commons later this month, MPs from all sides will have an opportunity to send a clear message to the world that genocide can never be met with indifference, impunity or inaction. It is time for the government to show moral leadership and be unequivocal in our commitment to upholding human rights.”

However, No 10 has shown no sign of agreeing to the compromise amendment and when it was being debated in the upper chamber last month, minister Lord Grimstone claimed the “establishment of an ad hoc parliamentary judicial committee would represent a fundamental constitutional reform”.

“It would blur the distinction between courts and parliament and upset the constitutional separation of powers,” he claimed. “Ultimately, the question of how we respond to concerns of genocide as it relates to our trade policy is a political question”.

Referring to Dominic Raab’s speech last month in which he hit out the “industrial scale” of abuse against the Uighur people, Lord Alton, who proposed the revised amendment, said: “You’ve got the foreign secretary making a superb speech to the UN human rights council saying this is on an industrial scale and describing in shocking terms and accurately the torture, the forced labour, the forced sterilisation of women, saying it’s extreme and extensive.

“Meanwhile you’ve got the resumption of restoring trade arrangements with China, which were suspended in the aftermath of what happened in Hong Kong.”

He added: “This is all tied with this conflict that goes on within government, where part of government still believes we’ve got a golden age opportunity with China as part of George Osborne’s legacy and you’ve got another part of it — Dominic Raab and others — saying what is happening in Xinjiang is comparable to things that we thought we’d never see again.”

Read More

China ‘bears responsibility for committing genocide’ against Uighurs, claims legal report

Holocaust survivors demand meeting with PM over ‘genocide amendment’ as trade bill faces Lords defeat

Government uses ‘shameful’ tactics to deny vote on trade deals with countries committing genocide

Boris Johnson refuses to back Trump and Biden teams in calling Uighur situation ‘genocide’

Women systematically raped and tortured in Uighur ‘re-education’ camps, says report

Boris Johnson first European leader to get call from President Biden

Boris Johnson first European leader to get call from President Biden

Christopher Hope

·4-min read
Boris Johnson on the phone - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson on the phone – Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

Boris Johnson told Joe Biden his arrival in the White House was a “moment of hope in a dark time” as he became the first leader outside North America to speak to the US President.

The Prime Minister is believed to be the third world leader to speak to Mr Biden after his scheduled call was brought forward by two days in what will be seen as a major boost for the special relationship between the UK and US.

Mr Johnson spoke to Mr Biden in a 35 minute phone call from his office at 10 Downing Street. The pair discussed “a very wide range of subjects”, sources said, describing the conversation as “very warm, friendly and wide ranging with agreement on key issues”.

One source said Mr Johnson welcomed the “fantastic initial announcements from the Biden administration and ‘moment of hope’ in a dark time”.

Announcing the phone call on Twitter, Mr Johnson said it was “great to speak to President Joe Biden”.

A Downing Street spokesman said that the pair “also discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between our two countries, and the Prime Minister reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible”.

On Saturday night sources in Berlin and Paris confirmed that neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel nor French President Emmanuel Emmanuel Macron had spoken with Mr Biden since Wednesday’s inauguration.

Mr Biden had been expected to start phoning allies across the Atlantic on Monday and the call will be seen as a major post-Brexit boost for Britain and a sign the US president wants to cement the special relationship.

The conversation came after it emerged Mr Biden had removed a bust of Sir Winston Churchill when selecting furnishings from the Oval Office.

British officials had downplayed the significance of this decision, as did the White House and the US embassy in London.

British officials told The Sunday Telegraph it was “likely” Mr Johnson was the first leader outside the Americas to receive a call.

Boris gives a thumbs up - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street 
Boris gives a thumbs up – Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

A readout from the White House said: “President Joseph R. Biden spoke today with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom.

“The President conveyed his intention to strengthen the special relationship between our countries and revitalise transatlantic ties, underscoring the critical role of Nato to our collective defence and shared values.

“President Biden also noted the importance of cooperation, including through multilateral organisations, on shared challenges such as combating climate change, containing Covid-19, and ensuring global health security.

“He noted his readiness to work closely with Prime Minister Johnson as the United Kingdom hosts the G-7 and United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this year.

“The leaders also discussed the need for coordination on shared foreign policy priorities, including China, Iran, and Russia.”

Boris Johnson speaks to Joe Biden  - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street 
Boris Johnson speaks to Joe Biden – Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

A Downing Street spokesman said that the pair “also discussed the benefits of a potential free trade deal between our two countries, and the Prime Minister reiterated his intention to resolve existing trade issues as soon as possible”.

Mr Biden spoke to Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday.

Mr Johnson has sought since the inauguration last week to extend the hand of friendship to the Democrat president after his victory over Donald Trump and said in November: “The US is our most important ally and I look forward to working closely together on our shared priorities from climate change to trade and security.”

The speed of the call to Mr Johnson is a significant improvement on when Donald Trump won the Presidential election in November 2016.

Then Theresa May, Mr Johnson’s predecessor in 10 Downing Street, was a lowly 11th on President Trump’s call list in 2016, behind the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Japan, India, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Australia and Ireland.