Boris Johnson is facing a knife-edge vote today as dozens of his MPs back action against Beijing over human rights abuses.
The PM is braced for a major revolt as Tories join calls to let British courts decide if the communist state is committing genocide against its Uighur Muslim minority.
Up to 50 MPs including former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith are expected to either support or refuse to block an amendment to the Trade Bill that would force ministers to block deals with countries which the High Court had ruled were guilty of genocide.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated he will defy the three-line whip and abstain, suggesting there is a ‘powerful’ case for the measure.
The change was introduced in the House of Lords, and the government must now overturn it.
Boris Johnson today faces a revolt from dozens of his MPs, who are demanding action against Beijing over human rights abuses
Up to 50 MPs including former Cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith (right) are expected to either support or refuse to block an amendment to the Trade Bill. Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated he will defy the three-line whip and abstain
Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, who is leading the drive for the change, said: ‘Britain must not look the other way on the genocide that is happening today in China.
‘This is our first chance outside the EU to show what Global Britain stands for.’
Mr Hunt told The Times: ‘I feel very strongly about this. I was always very struck having visited the genocide memorial sites in Rwanda that Bill Clinton thought his biggest mistake was that he didn’t intervene …
‘I think there’s something very powerful about the fact that a UK court could make a determination.’
The Government has opposed the amendment amid concerns the measure would lead to vexatious court claims and could prove counterproductive since the threshold to prove genocide is high.
Ministers argue that politicians, rather than judges, should get the final say on whether to do business with foreign states.
Downing Street said the UK had a ‘proud record’ standing up for human rights in China. The PM’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: ‘We recognise the strength of feeling but the Government doesn’t support the amendment.’
The amendment ‘aims to address significant human rights concerns in China, but it’s the case that we don’t have a free trade agreement with China and we are not currently negotiating one’.
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.
If accepted, the amendment could prevent the government from agreeing a deal with China because of Beijing’s treatment of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province, file photo
‘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.’
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was asked on Sunday if he thought the treatment of the Uighur minority group in China was genocide.
He said: ‘I think it’s for a court to decide whether the very complex definition of genocide is met.
‘But what is clear, frankly, whatever legal label you put on it, is that there are convincing and persuasive third party authoritative reports of serious violations of human rights on an appalling industrial scale.’
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has said it is backing the calls for the British courts to be given a new role in determining if the Uighur people are suffering genocide in China.
The amendment would allow domestic courts to declare if genocide is occurring in another country and it would prevent the UK trading with any country the High Court rules is committing genocidal acts.
Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s press secretary, said the Government was ‘constantly reaching out to all parliamentarians’ and was proud of how the UK champions human rights globally.
She said the Trade Bill only applied to trade agreements that had already been signed with the EU, and that none of those agreements had ‘eroded any domestic standards’.