Parliament has been at the forefront of the Brexit drama over the last few months. Through repeated meaningful votes, indicative votes, and backbenchers taking control of the order paper from the Government, it is becoming a weekly drama to tune in and see the results from the latest “crunch” votes.
Ultimately, a UK out of the EU will affect many aspects of UK law and change the way we can build on existing relationships with countries outside of the EU. This is why the JLC and Board of Deputies produced a joint report last year on Brexit and the Jewish Community. In the report we detail our desire for a post-EU Britain to maintain a robust sanctions and anti-terror regime, continue to protect religious freedom on Shechita, and build an even stronger relationship with Israel. Do read the report if you haven’t already.
Since our last newsletter we saw the proscription of Hizballah in its entirety by the Home Office. This ended the situation in which the UK only proscribed the organisation’s military wing and not the political wing, a distinction that many believed to be false (including the organisation itself). The proscription was approved by both Houses of Parliament without a contested vote and welcomed by communal organisations.
In March we marked the one year anniversary of the Jewish community gathering in Parliament Square to say ‘Enough is Enough’ in response to antisemitism in the Labour Party. The anniversary came shortly after a group of Labour MPs left their party to form the Independent Group (TIG) and were shortly joined by three MPs from the Conservatives. Although Brexit formed a major part of this dramatic move, the Labour antisemitism scandal was clearly a major factor – especially for Jewish MP Luciana Berger.
Former Labour MP Ian Austin also left to sit as an independent (although not with TIG) and had some strong words to say in a debate on UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Speaking in the chamber he said, “It is profoundly shocking to me that a political party that I joined as a teenager to fight racism has become embroiled in a scandal like this. It has be dealt with much more seriously. The Labour party must respond properly to the reasonable requests made by the Jewish community more than a year ago, and must boot out the racists for good.” You can watch the speech here.
A long-term concern of the Jewish community has been the biased and unfair treatment of Israel at UN bodies. This has been particularly noticeable at the UN Human Rights Council where Israel is the only nation to be subject to its own permanent item on the agenda in which it is singled out for criticism. We were delighted to see the Government honour its pledge from last year to vote against all resolutions under the permanent item and the Foreign Secretary explained why in an article for the JC.
In Foreign Office questions, the Foreign Secretary was asked about the USA’s decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. In response he said, “We should never recognise the annexation of territory by force,” before adding “Israel is an ally and a shining example of democracy in a part of the world where that is not common. We want Israel to be a success, and we consider it to be a great friend, but on this we do not agree.”
It is also worth noting the departure of the Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, who resigned to rebel against the government on a Brexit related vote. Burt was well respected across the House and was known for being on top of his brief while also taking a fair approach to the issues. The Asia Minister, Mark Field, is covering the Middle East portfolio until a replacement is appointed.
Lastly, elections will soon be upon us. Local elections will be taking place on Thursday 2nd May in many councils outside of London including Hertsmere, Bury, Salford, Trafford, Stockport, Gateshead, Watford, Three Rivers, and some wards in Epping Forest, so do make sure you vote if there is an election where you live. It is also increasingly likely that there will be European elections towards the end of May so it is as vital as ever that those eligible ensure they are registered to vote.
Parliament is now in recess but with elections around the corner and Brexit extended until Halloween, the UK’s political drama looks unlikely to end any time soon.