By Noa Hoffman
Government appears to be acceding to the demands of Chinasceptic MPs, indicating support for a legislative amendment seeking to ban UK government departments from procuring goods in regions of the world “tainted by slavery and human trafficking”.
PoliticsHome understands Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg is open to accepting an amendment tabled by Baroness Stroud to the Procurement Bill, which simultaneously seeks to reduce the UK’s overall dependency on China for reasons of national security.
Earlier this year government accepted an amendment to the Health and Care Bill banning the NHS from procuring medical supplies manufactured in regions of the world where slavery and human trafficking takes place.
The amendment did not explicitly name the Xinjiang region of China, where human rights groups have warned a genocide against the Uyghur Muslim minority is taking place, but was written with the area in mind.
If passed, Stroud’s amendment would extend the NHS ban to apply to all goods and services procured by government departments.
“Slowly the Government seems to be waking up,” Luke de Pulford, CEO of anti-slavery charity Arise, told PoliticsHome.
“Certainly, there are strong allies in the government who won’t allow Uyghurs and others to be thrown under the bus for the sake of a bit of trade,” he added.
“This is to be welcomed and applauded.”
Stroud’s amendment is the latest in a series of proposed legislative changes initiated by an influential number of MPs and peers aiming to drastically reduce the UK government’s economic dependency on and ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
Among those dedicated to the cause are former Conservative party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former minister Nus Ghani and foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat.
Some MPs have come up against push back from civil servants primarily based in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, who are said to have been hesitant about shifting the UK’s relationship with the CCP in a more hostile direction.
However, sources close to the campaign against the CCP have told PoliticsHome government is coming around to the idea of shifting the way it perceives and manages relations in the region.
Last year, with the support and guidance of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, MPs vowed to table amendments to every piece of legislation bought forward by government to turn them into “China bills”, attempting to force all departments to reduce its dependency and ties in all aspects to the state.
“Government is either get sick of IPAC amending bill after bill, or finally realising that China poses a major challenge to our way of life, and the international rules-based system,” de Pulford told PoliticsHome.
Commenting on Stroud’s amendment, Duncan Smith said he is “looking forward to (it) reaching the Commons.”
“The lead Sajid Javid has taken on Uyghur slavery must be adopted by the whole of government, and we must finally address our dependency on China, especially throughout our critical industries,” the former Tory leader said.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: "The UK has a strong history of protecting human rights and promoting our values globally. "We already work with suppliers to assess their exposure to forced labour and the Procurement Bill will grant new powers to bar companies who fail to eradicate these links from bidding for public contracts."