Senior Tories plan rebellion to back genocide clause to the Trade Bill

Tobias Ellwood appears on Sky News. Photograph: Sky.

Tobias Ellwood appears on Sky News. Photograph: Sky. - Credit: Archant

Boris Johnson is under pressure to control a potential rebellion as senior Tory MPs plan to support a move to outlaw trade deals with countries that are committing genocide.

The government is seeking to reverse key amendments to the Trade Bill passed by the House of Lords when the legislation returns to the Commons on Tuesday.

They include one which would force the government to withdraw from any free trade agreement with any country which the High Court rules is committing genocide.

However, ministers face opposition from some Conservative MPs led by former party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith concerned about China’s treatment of its Uighur minority.

Senior Conservative backbencher Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons Defence Committee, said he will back the Lords “genocide amendment” and predicted the government will be defeated in the vote.

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He told the PA news agency: “I would encourage as many MPs as possible to support this. We are just crafting the definition of what global Britain means and this must be front and centre in what we stand for and what we believe.”

Asked if he thinks the rebels will win, he said “I do” and pointed towards all opposition parties supporting the amendment and other Tory MPs planning to abstain.

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Labour has urged Conservatives to defy the whips and “vote with their consciences” and a rebellion of around 40 Tory MPs would put the government at risk of defeat.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt is also said to be among the rebels considering to vote in favour of the amendment or abstain.

In the Commons last week, foreign secretary Dominic Raab dismissed the amendment as “well-meaning” but also “rather ineffective and counter-productive”.

However, Sir Iain said that if the government did not like the amendment, it should come forward with “better” proposals of its own.

Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani, who supports the amendment, said the UK must not be “complicit” with genocide.

“Britain must be on the right side of history. This is our first chance outside the EU to show what our values really mean and what global Britain stands for,” she said.

“Why would we want to use our newfound freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide? Britain is better than that.

“As we form trade deals with new partners, we must honour our sacrosanct responsibility never to let economic concerns trump ethical ones by dealing with genocidal states.”

In a joint letter to MPs, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy and shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry called on them to support the changes.

“In particular, we are all gravely concerned about the situation in Xinjiang and the growing body of evidence of the systemic human rights abuses being committed by the Chinese government on an industrial scale against the Muslim Uighur people and other minorities,” they said.

“It is essential that, as we begin to implement our own independent trading policy, we ensure that our collective concerns about human rights are reflected in how we conduct trade negotiations around the world, and that Parliament can play its proper role in scrutinising potential trade agreements with those human rights concerns in mind.

“We have an opportunity on Tuesday to send a clear message: that as a country our trade policy must be underpinned by our fundamental values, that Parliament must play a role in ensuring human rights concerns are addressed, and that – when the most serious violations of human rights occur – we will not turn away.

“We would urge all colleagues to vote with their consciences on these matters.”

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