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Speaking at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons, Mr Johnson said that the campaign against the Uighur people in the western province of Xinjiang was “appalling” and did not absolutely rule out snubbing the Games in Beijing in February 2022.
But he made clear he does not back a stay-away order for UK athletes, telling MPs: “We’re not normally in favour of sporting boycotts in this country and that’s been the long-standing position of this government.”
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab raised the prospect of a boycott in October last year, when he told a committee of MPs: “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics.
“But there comes a point where that may not be possible. I would say let’s gather the evidence, let’s work with our international partners, let’s consider in the round what further action we need to take.”
But the PM’s words today indicate that the UK will not be at the forefront of any drive for a boycott, and will join one only reluctantly.
His comments came a day after the House of Lords voted for a third time for changes to legislation to prevent trade deals with countries guilty of genocide, in a move directed at China over credible reports of its use of forced labour camps in Xinjiang.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged Mr Johnson to commit the UK to staying away from the Beijing Games unless the Chinese authorities cease persecution of the Uighur people
“Today, millions of Uighur people in China live in fear under a cruel regime,” Sir Ed told the Commons.
“The BBC, international media and human rights NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are all reporting on forced labour camps, women being raped and sterilised and families being separated.
“This is a genocide happening in front of our eyes.”
And the Lib Dem leader asked: “Does the Prime Minister agree with me that, unless China enters this genocide, Britain and team GB should boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing next year?”
Mr Johnson said that Davey was “absolutely right to highlight the appalling campaign against the Uighurs in Xinjiang”, and pointed to action taken by the government to ensure that no British companies are complicit in violations of human rights.
“We are leading international action in the UN to hold China to account and will continue to work with the US, friends and partners around the world to do just that.”
But he added: “We’re not normally in favour of sporting boycotts in this country and that’s been the long-standing position of this government.”