The UK Government has seen off a highly significant amendment to the Trade Bill in progress, after members of the lower house voted 318 to 300 to defeat the revision. 
Despite impassioned speeches from both sides of the chamber, and in particular within the Tory ranks, Boris Johnson’s government saw a victory in the quashing of the so-called “genocide amendment” that would have given British courts the power to decide whether countries are engaging in genocide and thus be barred from trade with the UK. 
Leading Conservatives went against the party line, with former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, former leader of the Conservatives Sir Iain Duncan Smith, and former Brexit Secretary David Davis, all rebelling.
Iain Duncan Smith, who is also a former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has consistently been vocal in his remarks concerning the plight of the Uyghurs, and in early February he was noted as saying of the Government’s delay tactics on the amendment:
“Why, oh why is the government going out of its way to block this amendment that’s coming back to the House of Commons which will give courts the power to decide this genocide?” 
The former leader of the Conservatives, and current MP for Chingford & Woodford Green, went further to say:
“Let’s stop this nonsense please and allow this amendment to go through and to get the courts to make this decision of genocide. It will be a leading position from a British government. That’s the way to go.” 
The Government now sees itself in a complex situation, with the likes of Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab lashing out against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on numerous occasions yet seemingly uninterested in the amendment to the Trade Bill as introduced by the crossbencher Lord Alton.
Monday evening’s vote came shortly after the UK, US, EU, and Canada all took steps to slap sanctions on the Chinese government over the ongoing ill-treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the occupied East Turkestan, referred to by the Chinese as the Xinjiang province. 
Targeted in the sanctions are various Chinese officials accused of harbouring responsibility for the torture and abuse of Uyghurs. Wang Mingshan, Chen Mingguo, Zhu Hailun, and Wang Zunzheng have been barred from travel to the EU, US, UK, and Canada, in addition to seeing their overseas assets frozen.
Furthermore, there have also been sanctions against Bingtuan, officially called the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), which essentially acts as a “state within a state” and has been referred to as China’s version of the East India Company by employing paramilitary and construction staff to develop not only entire towns and cities, but importantly the concentration camps that reportedly house millions of innocent Uyghur Muslims.
The Foreign Secretary, prior to implementing the sanctions on the CCP, delivered a statement to the Commons in which he attempted to lay bare the situation in East Turkestan:
“People are detained for having too many children; for praying too much; for having a beard or wearing a head scarf; for having the wrong thoughts.” 
Making a comparison to WWII, the senior cabinet minister added:
“In terms of scale, it is the largest mass detention of an ethnic or religious group since … and I believe one thing is clear – the international community cannot simply look the other way.” 
However, Raab took care not to refer to the oppression of the Uyghurs as genocide; not once in the lengthy Commons statement did the First Secretary of State declare the heinous acts of the CCP as being genocidal in nature.
This is a crucial point, as was emphasised by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who opined in an article in The Independent:
“Our government does not want to speak of genocide nor hear it spoken of. It has gone to grotesque procedural lengths in parliament to thwart all attempts to build into its policy any acknowledgement that genocide may be taking place…” 
The Brighton Pavilion MP went further to write:
“The foreign secretary, to his credit, has told the UN that the abuses in Xinjiang are “on an industrial scale” and “beyond the pale”. But he represents a government that conducts itself as if nothing untoward were happening; or worse, as if, when it comes to the prospect of profitable deals, it does not matter what might be happening as long as UK firms keep their supply chains away from the Uighur slave economy.” 
Lucas also referred to the “Magnitsky” legislation enacted by the British government in mid-2020, which targets gross human rights abuse, yet which the Government does not believe is appropriate for use on China. The legislation is named after the late Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who discovered huge tax fraud whilst working for an investment fund and was later arrested and died in prison. 
Lucas, a veteran former MEP, wrote:
“[The Foreign Secretary] refuses to apply the targeted “Magnitsky” sanctions he recently introduced with a fanfare to punish those who abuse human rights. He insists that only the Courts can declare on genocide, knowing that the Chinese regime will block any recourse to international Courts, while rejecting any role for our own. He calls for UN officials to go to Xinjiang to gather evidence, knowing that any visit would either be refused or so stage-managed as to be meaningless… There is nowhere left to hide. The arguments with which the government now seeks to deter a successful backbench rebellion are constitutional humbug.” 
The Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry, had argued prior to last night’s vote that members ought to “vote with their conscience”, asking the question:
“Should Britain be willing to sign trade deals with governments which are engaging in torture, mass detention, slave labour, organ harvesting and non-judicial executions – not on an isolated basis, but on an industrial scale against the Uighur population in Xinjiang?” 
However, with the “genocide amendment” having now been demolished — in spite of peers having voted three times to pass it — the Government appears free to continue doing trade with the Chinese government at a time when a number of other Western nations have openly called out the CCP for its genocide of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Commentators say this is a reflection of the weakened presence of the UK after it left the EU earlier this year.
Shaheer is a regular contributor for Islam21c. He maintains a strong interest in current affairs, as well as the changing global conditions of Muslim populations. Prior to joining Islam21c, he developed a number of years’ experience in the health and social care sector and has previously volunteered at the Muslim Youth Helpline.