Money and Murder
A couple of days after Brexit officially occurred, a vote was held on a very controversial amendment to the UK trade bill. The amendment was proposed by Lord Alton in the House of Lords and then passed back to the House of Commons.
The amendment proposed a clause that required the government to reconsider trade deals with countries deemed to be committing genocide. Actively labelling a country as guilty of genocide would be down to the UK’s High Court, whereas it has previously been done at the international judicial level. The issue, however, as I have discussed in my previous article on the ongoing genocide in China of the Uighur people, is that the international courts can’t make rulings on genocide since nation states like China do not recognise the relevant courts, or veto any reference to such issues.
The amendment had considerable backing from several organisations such as the International Bar Association, the Conservative Muslim Forum, the British Board of Jewish Deputies, and a variety of Christian groups. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry stated: “It is understandable and right that many members today will focus their contributions on the situation in China and the plight of the Uighur people … It shames the world that this is happening in our lifetime, it disgraces the government of China, and it is absolutely right that if a UK trade deal with Beijing is proposed or agreed then representatives of the Uighur community should be able to seek a ruling from the High Court that the crimes they are facing in China meet the criteria for a charge of genocide, in turn requiring the UK Government to consider revoking that trade deal.”
Speaking for the Government was Minister for Trade, Greg Hands, who argued that, while genocide was important in trade deal arrangements, judges should not be the ones to decide such things or how trade in the UK should work, arguing the amendment, “would, in effect, take prerogative powers to conduct international relations with respect to trade out of the hands of government. This goes to the heart of the separation of powers in Britain’s constitutional system.” Essentially, Hands believes that the amendment would challenge parliamentary supremacy, calling it, “ an erosion of the royal prerogative.”
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, argued that rulings on genocide have always been made by judges, just on an international level. Though pro-Remain himself, Tugendhat masterfully invoked Brexiteer lingo to persuade some of his fellow Tories to support the amendment, stating, “The international courts, are blocked, so this is a way for the British people to take back control of our laws and conscience.” Tugendhat argued that by having courts decide charges of genocide, “then we were all as one responding to an abuse against the whole of humanity, because genocide is a crime against the whole of humanity.” The Tory MP made the point that British judges and legal institutions are trusted worldwide and up to the task of ruling charges of genocide.
This issue has of course come to the table due to increased attention on the Uighur Genocide, though China isn’t the only country partaking in genocide, just the most topical. Hands pointed out that the amendment wouldn’t effect the Uighurs as the UK don’t have a trade deal with China…yet. As Britain scrambles to arrange trade deals after Brexit, it is a high possibility a trade deal with Beijing could be secured. That being said, given the Tory majority in the Commons one would assume this amendment would have been easily swept aside, and though it was rejected, they only won by a slim margin, 319 against the amendment and 308 for it. This was due to a high number of Conservative rebels, such as Tugendhat — these Tory politicians are clearly on the right side of history in this matter .However, a second measure, also endorsed by the Lords, requiring ministers to make a formal assessment of a country’s human rights record before striking a trade deal was heavily defeated by 364 to 267.
Lord Alton, the co-sponsor of the amendment in the Lords, says the fight isn’t over as a revised amendment is currently in the works. Nus Ghani, a leading member of the inter-parliamentary alliance on China, said, “When the British Board of Deputies on Jewish colleagues state they are reminded of the Holocaust when they consider the state of the Uighur people it cannot get any worse than that.” Is it really surprising that the Tory Government are once again putting money over lives? They’ve done it before with their handling of austerity, Grenfell, the pandemic, free school meals, and now with the Uighur crisis. To quote Primo Levi, Holocaust survivor and author of Survival in Auschwitz, “I am constantly amazed by man’s inhumanity to man.”