Boris Johnson is seeking to avert a Tory revolt over allegations of genocide in China by backing a compromise plan put forward by a senior Conservative.
The Government has been involved in a parliamentary battle over proposals to outlaw trade deals with countries that are committing genocide – a dispute taking place at a time when the Chinese authorities’ activities in Xinjiang are under intense international scrutiny.
Ministers have insisted that decisions on trade deals and international relations should not be matters for the courts.
But peers have refused to back down over amendments to the Trade Bill which would force ministers to withdraw from any free trade agreement with any country which the High Court rules is committing genocide.
The House of Lords reinserted the trade safeguard, proposed by crossbench peer Lord Alton, into the legislation after the Prime Minister was able to narrowly overturn it in the Commons.
The Bill returns to the Commons on Tuesday, with Conservative MPs demanding action – particularly in light of recent reports of abuses being carried out against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The Government will back a compromise plan put forward by Sir Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons Justice Select Committee, which would put the matter in the hands of parliamentarians rather than judges.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The Government shares the grave concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang behind Lord Alton’s amendment and understands the strength of feeling on this issue.
“However, that amendment could embroil the courts in the formulation of trade policy and conduct of international relations and risks undermining the separation of powers.
“The amendment put forward by the chair of the select committee, which the Government will be supporting, addresses the concerns raised by the parliamentarians to take a stand on credible reports of genocide by a prospective trade partner while ensuring a specific duty on government to act.”
Sir Bob’s amendment would mean a debate and vote could be held in Parliament on credible allegations of genocide.
The first stage would be a report from a Commons committee setting out the claims of genocide, which would then prompt a ministerial response.
If that response was not deemed to be sufficient, the Government would have to provide time for a debate in the Commons, with similar arrangements in the Lords.
Meanwhile, Downing Street stressed the need for academics to comply with laws on international exports following reports that almost 200 experts are being investigated on suspicion of unwittingly helping the Chinese government build weapons of mass destruction.
The Times reported they are suspected of violating strict export laws intended to prevent intellectual property in highly sensitive subjects being handed to hostile states.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Exporters of military goods and those engaged in the transfer of military technology including universities and academics require a licence to export or transfer from the UK.
“It’s obviously vitally important that universities and academics comply with relevant export control but I don’t have anything further to add.”