As a “compensation,” Chinese officials responsible for atrocities in Xinjiang were sanctioned.
by Ruth Ingram
Down but not out.
Bruised but not broken.
In a nail biting denouement to the Lords-Commons ping pong over the genocide amendment to the post Brexit Trade Bill yesterday, the UK government finally had its way by 318 votes to 300. But campaigners dusted themselves down after this narrowest of defeats, vowing to continue the struggle against genocidal states and compromised trade deals.
Parliamentary proceedings were interrupted by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, announcing the UK’s decision to join forces with 29 other states and impose Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese officials who are complicit in Uyghur atrocities. Campaigners have been pushing for months for sanctions, and while some MPs considered the long hoped for, but bombshell revelation, coming minutes before the Trade Bill debate, to be an attempt to deflect an honest vote on the amendment, others felt the prospect of a Commons defeat had precipitated the move.
There was disappointment but also muted optimism from World Uyghur Congress director in London, Rahima Mahmut, who tweeted her fellow campaigners after the session, “We might not have won recognition of genocide but together we won greater recognition of the crimes against Uyghurs, including sanctions on some who are directing it.” She thanked supporters and pleaded for more help with the ongoing struggle for her people. “We will need you more than ever as the attempt to destroy us continues,” she urged.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy condemned the surprise call. She called it “grubby and cynical timing,” which, far from sending a signal to China, as claimed by Raab, was in fact a signal to his own back benchers not to vote for the amendment. She complained that he had been “staring down the barrel of defeat,” and was trying “every trick in the book” to stop it going through.
In this, the amendment’s third Commons hearing, Lord David Alton’s original proposal to set up a court to determine the genocidal status of states negotiating free trade deals with the UK, had been considerably watered down. Back benchers had thrown out the idea of democratically elected MPs being beholden to judges, and the eventual proposal was to form a committee of ex high court judges who would make a genocide determination, before passing the final decision on a trade deal back to the Commons.
But even this compromise did not pass muster with Greg Hands, Minister of State for International Trade, who insisted that involving former judges in parliamentary proceedings would muddy the waters of the democratic process.
Shadow Secretary of State, Emily Thornberry, describing the three year passage of the Trade Bill said she had hoped that commerce would not trump human rights as Britain forged a new path put of Europe. She felt that the majority of UK citizens and parliamentarians wanted to draw a line where dealing with genocidal states was concerned. Detailing each of the crimes of which the CCP is accused; mass sterilisation, rape, torture, organ harvesting, separation of children from parents and imprisonment of Uyghurs on an industrial scale, she questioned whether Britain should be signing trade deals with the perpetrators. David Alton’s genocide amendment had sought to draw the line, she said.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith accused the government of tying itself in knots to keep on the right side of Beijing. Given the chance to allow a UK court to determine genocide, it had backed off. Handed a compromise plan to keep the democratic process transparent whilst allowing the best legal brains and wisdom in the country to advise on genocide, it found a reason to oil out. “We have a chance to send a message to Beijing that we won’t put up with this,” he said, urging the government not to shy away from naming and shaming the “genocide” being carried out in Xinjiang today. “We should not be frightened to shout this from the steeple tops,” he said.
Despite a groundswell of outrage at “governmental hypocrisy,” “procedural shenanigans,” Britain’s damaged moral standing in the world, and a campaign which has seen Holocaust survivors begging for an audience with Boris Johnson, more than 100 student leaders petitioning the government and the Jewish Board of Deputies prioritising the Uyghur genocide in every major Jewish event online for the past year, this was not enough to cross the finishing post first.
Undeterred, MP Nus Ghani, one of the driving forces behind the genocide amendment, was heartened by the announcement of Magnitsky sanctions against four Chinese officials and the Public Security Bureau of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Despite losing the vote, she was heartened by provision under the government’s compromise measures to set up a select committee to assess genocide, and guarantees there would be no trade deals with genocidal states without parliamentary say so.
Attempts to silence and intimidate her online by a Chinese embassy minister following the recent publication of the BEIS (Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy Committee) report on forced Uyghur labour, would not succeed, she said. “I won’t be silenced.”