Saturday 20 March 2021 / 10:30 PM Emily Thornberry / Lisa Nandy

Labour writes to MPs urging them to back Trade Bill amendment preventing deals with countries suspected of genocide

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary and Shadow International Trade Secretary have written to MPs ahead of the Trade Bill returning to the House of Commons on Monday.

Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry have called on Members on all sides to enable Parliament to “send a united message that genocide can never be met with indifference, impunity or inaction, and must certainly never be rewarded with preferential terms of trade.”

The letter states that the amendment “addresses many of the concerns raised by the Government at earlier stages of debate,” and ensures that “Parliament makes decisions about trade deals, not courts,” while also breaking “the cycle of inaction between the Government’s insistence that only international courts can make determinations about genocide and the inability of those courts to make such determinations.”

They add that Government efforts to block a vote on the genocide amendment reinforces concern that it “does not want to have its freedom of manoeuvre with China and other states limited in any way by the moral convictions shared across the House.”

Full text of the letter from Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry to MPs

We are writing to you in advance of the Trade Bill returning to the Commons next week for consideration of Lords amendments.

For the third time, the Bill will return with an amendment approved by the House of Lords based on the unifying principle that the UK should not offer special treatment to countries guilty of genocide, and that we must therefore have a meaningful route to determine whether genocide has occurred.

In tabling another amendment in lieu, the Government will once again seek to deny Members on all sides a fair vote on the genocide amendment, despite the widespread cross-party support repeatedly demonstrated in the Lords and the strong feelings among Members in the Commons.

Colleagues from all sides of this House have expressed their serious concerns about the systemic and grave abuses taking place against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, with widespread accounts of forced labour, mass internment, rape and sexual violence, mass ‘re-education’ and forced sterilisation.

The Amendment as currently tabled addresses many of the concerns raised by the government at earlier stages of debate. It ensures that Parliament makes decisions about trade deals, not courts. But it also ensures that a preliminary determination of genocide can be made by a legal authority. It therefore breaks the cycle of inaction between the government’s insistence that only international courts can make determinations about genocide and the inability of those courts to make such determinations.

On Monday, we will again confront the issue of whether those responsible for genocide should be afforded preferential terms of trade. What’s always been clear, but is now starker than ever, is that this is not an abstract or theoretical question.

Recent comments by the Foreign Secretary and other ministers make clear the Government is prepared to sign trade deals with countries even when there are serious human rights concerns. The extensive rear-guard action to block a vote on the genocide amendment only reinforces our concern that the Government does not want to have its freedom of manoeuvre with China and other states limited in any way by the moral convictions shared across the House.

This leaves a simple question of what side Parliament takes on this question. Are we to treat trade deals as purely a matter of commerce, irrespective of how heinous the actions of a counterparty may be, or will we ensure that, when the most serious violations are committed, universal principles are put before narrow commercial interests?

Next week, Parliament can send a united message that genocide can never be met with indifference, impunity or inaction, and must certainly never be rewarded with preferential terms of trade. We have the chance to define the Britain the world sees: a country with the courage of its convictions; a country that stands in solidarity with those who suffer the gravest persecution; a country that seeks free and fair trade with others, but not at any price.

We urge you to join us and colleagues across the House next week to send this message to the world.