Public bodies and foreign policy in the UK

6 December 2023 | Applicable law: EU | 3 minute read

Higher education providers and academy trusts, amongst other educational and indeed other charities, will be interested in the passage through Parliament of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill.

The Bill reflects the Conservative government’s commitment essentially to try to ensure consistent foreign policy messaging from the UK by controlling the extent to which public bodies can conduct activities with a degree of foreign policy flavour.  This is particularly targeted at boycott, divestment and similar activity.

The Bill is currently in the House of Commons and has yet to proceed to the House of Lords, but it’s anticipated that it will receive Royal Assent during 2024. 

Its immediate impact will be on public bodies (as the name of the Bill suggests) which very broadly means bodies that perform a public function, such as universities and other public institutions like national galleries and museums.  But conceivably the impact of the Bill will spread further than this through the imposition of, say, grant terms and conditions by public bodies that are funding the delivery of some of their work by other parties, perhaps in some cases also being charities.

The effect of the Bill includes prohibiting procurement and investment decisions that might appear (on a reasonable basis) to be influenced by some degree of judgement about the political or moral propriety of the activities of a relevant foreign state.  Certain related public statements by relevant bodies are also prohibited.

As one might expect given the nature of the Bill, and perhaps the potential for it to be perceived as an overreaching intrusion into the free conduct of independent institutions, a wide range of strong views has been expressed as the Bill has made its way through the lower House.  It will be interesting to see how the Lords respond when the Bill is put before them, and indeed, what the final instrument looks like when it comes onto the statute book next year.

For further information, please get in touch with Philip Reed or Alison Paines.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.


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