UK Genocide Amendment Narrowly Defeated in House of Commons

January 19, 2021 Updated: January 19, 2021

An amendment giving UK courts power to revoke trade deals with genocidal countries has been narrowly defeated on Tuesday in the House of Commons despite a Tory rebellion.

The genocide amendment, tabled by Lord Alton of Liverpool, nullifies trade arrangements made under Trade Bill 2019-21 if the High Court of England and Wales makes a preliminary determination that the proposed trade partner has perpetrated genocide.

The amendment was defeated by a margin of 11 votes, with 319 Conservative MPs voting in line with the government to reject it, and 308 MPs—including 33 Conservative rebels and MPs from all other parties—voting to support it.

The House of Lords on Dec. 7 voted for the amendment by 287 votes to 161, before it was moved to the Commons.

In a heated debate ahead of the vote on Tuesday, cross-party MPs supporting the amendment argued that it provides a legal basis for the UK government to engage in obligations under the Genocide Convention.

“Many of us for years have been frustrated that every time we try and raise genocide in this place, in terms of trade deals, we’re told it’s subject to the international courts and therefore vetoed by whatever China, or Russia, or other countries, and Security Council,” former Conservative Leader Iain Duncan Smith said.

“If we don’t pass the amendment today, we will be outsourcing all future decisions on genocide to Russia and China,” Conservative MP Nus Ghani said.

“We now have an independent trade policy after leaving the EU … Why would we want to use our newfound freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide?” she asked.

MPs opposing the amendment argued that it would be a judicial overreach into powers belonging to Parliament.

“It’s not for the courts to revoke trade treaties, and it’s a denial of the fundamental supremacy of Parliament,” the government’s representative, Trade Policy Minister Greg Hands said.

Compromise Amendment

Several MPs proposed a compromise amendment about a week before the debate.

The compromise amendment, which was meant to replace Lord Alton’s amendment, removed the automatic revocation of trade deals, over which many of the no-voters were concerned.

The amendment states that if a high court in England and Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland makes a preliminary determination that a proposed trade partner is committing genocide, the Lord Chancellor much present such determination to both Houses of Parliament, which will then debate on a motion calling on the Government to take action.

However, the compromise amendment was rejected before the debate.

Duncan Smith, one of the MPs sponsoring the compromise amendment, said the sponsors will bring the amendment back to the House of Lords.