Boris Johnson faces a rebellion by about 30 Tory MPs on Tuesday who are seeking to block a potential post-Brexit trade deal with China over its human rights record.
The amendment to the trade deal — promoting a UK trade policy that upholds human rights — is co-sponsored by one-time Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and former minister Nusrat Ghani. It would stop ministers from cutting trade deals with countries found guilty of genocide by the High Court.
It is backed by all the opposition parties as well as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
A similar motion from Lord Alton of Liverpool, a crossbench human rights campaigner, was recently passed by a majority of 129 in the House of Lords.
Ms Ghani urged colleagues to be “on the right side of history”, saying: “Why on earth would we want to use our new found freedom to trade with states that commit and profit from genocide? Britain is better than that.”
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said on Sunday that he “supported the spirit” of the proposals and argued the UK should not be engaged in free trade negotiations with countries abusing human rights “well below the level of genocide”.
But he argued that there was a “challenge, a practical workable question” as to whether the High Court had the investigative capacity to determine facts on the ground in another country. He added: “We shouldn’t really be delegating the political question who you engage in free trade negotiations to the courts . . . that’s something MPs should hold the government to account about.”
Last week Mr Raab announced that British businesses that failed to ensure their supply chains are free of slave labour could face fines.
At the time he said the UK had a “moral duty” to respond to the “far-reaching” evidence of human rights abuses being perpetrated in Xinjiang, where he said the Chinese government had detained more than 1m Uighur Muslims and sent many to factories as forced labour. Beijing describes the facilities as training centres to curb extremism and promote the acquisition of new skills.
Meanwhile, David Perry, a QC who was hired by the Hong Kong authorities to prosecute nine activists for unlawful assembly, was criticised by Mr Raab as “mercenary”. The foreign secretary, a former human rights lawyer, said he could not understand how anyone could take on such a case “in good conscience”.
Allies of Mr Perry have said he is acting under the “cab rank” principle under which barristers take cases as they come up.
But Mr Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that a barrister could resist such a case “under the bar code of ethics”, adding: “From Beijing’s point of view, this would be a serious PR coup.”
The Hong Kong government is prosecuting a group of leading pro-democracy figures including media magnate Jimmy Lai, 73, and the city’s “father of democracy”, Martin Lee, 82.
The trial, which begins on February 16 in the district court, is over accusations the group was involved in organising unlawful assemblies during the 2019 Hong Kong protests.
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