Campaigners outside Number 10 Downing Street handing in a petition against the anti-boycott bill

A coalition of campaign groups, led by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street on Thursday calling for the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to drop the government’s ‘anti-boycott bill’. The Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) bill is due to return to parliament in September and seeks to prevent public bodies – including local councils, universities, and public sector pension funds – from deciding how to spend, invest and trade ethically, in line with international law and human rights.

Nearly 18,000 people signed the petition in opposition to the anti-boycott bill, which campaigners say has wide-reaching ramifications for environmental and social justice campaigns. Over 70 civil society groups – including major trade unions Unite, Unison and the RMT; student groups NUS and People & Planet; and campaign groups including Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth and War on Want – have joined the ‘Right to Boycott’ campaign to resist the legislation. Alongside these civil society groups, the Scottish Government has also said that it opposes the bill.

Handing in the petition were Palestine Solidarity Campaign director Ben Jamal, War on Want, director Asad Rehman, Clare Baker from Unite the Union, and Grace Da Costa from Quakers in Britain.

Ben Jamal, director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: “The huge response to this petition reflects widespread alarm across whole swathes of progressive civil society that the anti-boycott bill represents a major attack on freedom of expression. Opposition to this bill is growing because it threatens, not just the ability of public bodies to take part in boycott and divestment campaigns in support of Palestinian rights, but all those who seek change through peaceful and democratic means.”

Grace Da Costa from Quakers in Britain added: “Quakers have a long history of nonviolent action against global injustices. Boycotts and divestments are key tools in the campaign for equality, peace and sustainability. The government must withdraw this bill to protect human rights in the UK and around the world.”

The anti-boycott bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons earlier this year. This month, it will enter the committee stage.

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Image credit: Palestine Solidarity Campaign