here is a parliamentary campaign being fought within and between both houses to insert some form of prohibition on trade deals with countries guilty of genocide. A determined group of MPs and peers across all parties and none are pressing hard for such a provision. They are backed by the International Bar Assiciation, the British Board of Jewish Deputies and the Conservative Muslim Forum, among others. The government is resisting. The “genocide amendment” is currently at the “ping pong” stage, successively approved and rejected by the Commons and Lords respectively. Because it is part of the trade bill, rather than a “money bill” as such, and because such issues were not covered in the Conservatives’ ejection manifesto, the process of attrition could take some time.
It should be, in principle, an unexceptionable move, and one that wouldn’t raise any immediate issues with large economies in any case. Who wants to trade with mass murderers? The obvious candidate for such a snub would be China, because of its treatment of the Uighur Muslim people, as well as offences against human rights in Hong Kong and expansionism abroad. There is little possibility of any trade treaty with the people’s republic for some time. China is hardly hammering on Britain’s door, and the wind-down of Huawei’s UK presence proves the point.
The debate also uncomfortably raises the question of what was the point of Brexit, given that determining our own terms of business was one of the few possible benefits of leaving the EU. Now that Britain is an independent trading nation surely this is a moment to make a point, to set a standard, and to show moral leadership to the world on free, fair and humane trade? Brexiteers might enjoy drawing a contrast between British fastidiousness and the EU’s new partnership agreement with China (although the European Parliament is making its own objections to that).