British Government Plans to Outlaw BDS Movement in the UK

British Government Plans to Outlaw BDS Movement in the UK
A march calling for justice for Palestinians moves through the streets of central London, 2019 (AFP/File photo)


Elia Duran-Smith

Europe Team Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.

In December 2021, ex-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government and current MP for Newark, Robert Jenrick, said that the British government plans to introduce new legislation to outlaw the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the UK in the spring.[1] This movement serves to use the successful tactics employed during the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa, now directed towards the Israeli state for its treatment of the Palestinian people and their territory.[2] This includes encouraging universities and local governments to divest from corporations operating in Israel.

However, this is not the first time Conservative governments have attempted to outlaw the BDS movement in the UK. In 2017, the Administrative Court ruled that government guidance for investment by local government pension funds unlawful as it tried to diminish divestment from firms implicated in the Israeli government’s violations of international law.[3] The guidance said “using pension policies to pursue boycott, divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries are inappropriate". Additionally, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was given the power to veto local government decisions on investment.[4] 

The Court of Appeal then overturned this decision in 2018, and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign subsequently made an appeal to the Supreme Court. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in alignment with the Court of Appeal and found that the government’s attempt to curb direct or indirect divestment by local governments was illegal as it undermined their freedom of expression and the right of pension-holders to have a say in the investments made through their pensions.[5]

Sources and further reading: 

Jerusalem Post Staff. (2021, December 14). UK to outlaw BDS in the ‘following months’, Conservative MP says. Jerusalem Post. 

Robert Carter [@Bob_cart124]. (2021, December 17). MUST WATCH: Tory MP Robert Jenrick reassuring pro-Israel activists that UK gov. is "beating back" BDS, aims to totally outlaw anti-Israel boycott campaign in 2022. #BDS @RobertJenrick @PressTV [Tweet]. Twitter. 

Middle East Eye Staff. (2019, December 16). BDS: UK to pass law banning anti-Israel boycott, official says. Middle East Eye. 

Palestine Solidarity Campaign. (2017, June 22). UK Government Defeated in Court by BDS Activists for Palestinian Human Rights. BDS. 

Barnard, R. (2016, October 4). Thatcherism returns: UK councils banned from divesting from occupation. Middle East Eye. 

Oryszczuk, S. (2016, September 14). Minister threatens investment withdrawals for council boycotts. Jewish News. 

‘UK Supreme Court rules against government attempt to curb BDS’. (2020, April 29). Middle East Monitor. 

Hilton, E. (2022, January 4). The Emma Watson Saga Exposes the Demonisation of Palestine Solidarity. Tribune.