The government yesterday announced much-debated guidelines which will prevent public bodies, including local councils from boycotting specific countries, including Israel.

The regulations state that, “Public procurement should never be used as a tool to boycott tenders from suppliers based in other countries, except where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the UK Government.” An announcement said that under the terms of the World Trade Organisation Public Procurement Agreement, all signatories must “treat suppliers equally” from co-signatory nations, which include Israel. Consequently, “Any discrimination against Israeli suppliers involving procurements would therefore be in breach of the Agreement.”

The guidelines also explain that, “There are wider national and international consequences from imposing such local level boycotts,” on the UK’s foreign and trade relations, “to the detriment of Britain’s economic and international security.”

Cabinet Office Minister, Matthew Hancock, who is currently visiting Israel, commented “We need to challenge and prevent these divisive town hall boycotts,” adding that the new guidelines “will help prevent damaging and counter-productive local foreign policies undermining our national security.” In a statement, Hancock added that such boycotts “undermine good community relations, poisoning and polarising debate.” Hancock addressed the new guidelines while updating Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday in Jerusalem, commenting “We believe that discrimination is unacceptable and has to be opposed.”

Netanyahu responded saying, “I congratulate the government of Britain on its refusal to discriminate against Israel and Israelis,” adding “I congratulate you for taking the side of the one and only democracy in the Middle East.”

The new guidelines have been criticised by some as an affront to local democracy. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership also outlined its opposition yesterday. Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood met yesterday with senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, who told him that the new regulations “represents a serious regression in British policy and it would empower the Israeli occupation.”