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Parliament rejects trade bill amendment aimed at protecting persecuted religious minorities from genocide

by Will Maule

The UK parliament has rejected an amendment which would have required the government to reconsider trade deals with countries deemed by British High Court judges to be committing genocide. 

The so-called 'genocide amendment' was proposed by a number of backbench Tory MPs and who were seeking to have it added to the post-Brexit Trade Bill. It was rejected in the Commons on Tuesday night with a vote of 319 to 308.

The Minister of State for Trade, Greg Hands MP, said the amendment "would not be the right way forward" because it would allow for the "automatic revocation by the High Court of an international trade agreement that was negotiated between Governments and approved by Parliament".

Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who was leading the Tory revolt, responded by insisting that the amendment "does not give the courts too much power, because it does not take power from the House of Commons or the House of Lords".

"We do not have the power to decide whether the Government should do trade deals or not," he added. "It is a Government power under royal prerogative. The power does not go across to the courts. The courts simply make a preliminary judgment. On the back of that the Government, even with this amendment, would have to come back to the House if they disagreed. They could disagree by putting forward primary legislation.”

Many had hoped that, if passed, the amendment would protect religious minorities from being persecuted by their own governments. Many MPs had cited the plight of China's Uighur Muslim population as a key reason for why the amendment should be passed, insisting that Beijing must commit to the better treatment of religious minorities before a trade deal can be agreed with the British government.

Responding to the vote, Christian Solidarity Worldwide founder, Mervyn Thomas, said: "At its heart, this amendment is an innovative, victim-centred means of addressing the gravest of international crimes. All too often, genocide is not addressed while it is underway as attempts to do so become mired in international politics, preventing cases reaching the international courts.

A revised amendment is likely to be tabled once the Bill returns to the House of Lords.

Thomas added: "We hope that once a revised amendment is tabled it will be passed by parliamentarians, as this will send a powerful message from the mother of parliaments that the UK will not turn a blind eye to genocide. We also hope this measure will add momentum to further efforts to ensure that grave human rights violations, including those falling short of genocide, are also considered in UK trade negotiations.”


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