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Criticism prompts UK to tone down security bill

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-02-23 10:11
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The UK government looks set to change its plans to introduce a register of organizations of foreign influence after criticism from business leaders and representatives of friendly foreign governments.

Unveiled in October, the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme is an add-on to the National Security Bill introduced to Parliament in May and is described as "new legislation to compel those acting for a foreign power or entity to declare political influencing activity — and criminalize those who do not".

The current phrasing of the draft legislation makes reference to rules that will apply to specific governments and states whose actions are deemed of concern to the United Kingdom. However, other more-friendly countries have expressed dismay at the prospect of their businesses and civil groups also having to register and being lumped together with these nations.

Similar programs exist in Australia and the United States, but it is thought the British legislation goes further than either of these and would create a far heavier workload.

After concerns that it could endanger investment and damage relations between the UK and key allies, the Financial Times said the government will reveal this week what concessions it is willing to make, with an unnamed insider at the Home Office saying, "There are obvious ways to lessen its impact on friendly countries."

Duncan Edwards, head of trans-Atlantic trade association British-American Business, said the proposal was seen as "pretty offensive" to US businesses.

"This will choke off conversations between business and the government at all levels," he added, while the Politico website quoted a senior business figure from an unspecified country sympathetic to the UK as calling it one of the "most boneheaded, dunderheaded, ill-thought-through pieces of legislation" they had ever seen.

The reported concessions come months after affected parties in the UK had already made clear their objections.

Changes urged

In a briefing note to clients, James Palmer, a partner at law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, called the plan "one of the most fundamentally misconceived and ineptly focused that we have ever seen", adding that, without changes, it would bureaucratize "almost all global engagement with the UK "while criminalizing "an almost uncircumscribed range of individuals, charities, academics, businesses and other organizations".

The world of academia has also said the plan would be unnecessary and obstructive.

"We are concerned the current proposals will duplicate existing measures and capture many partnerships that are already scrutinized," said Tim Bradshaw, head of the Russell Group of leading UK research universities. "That kind of duplication drains resources and increases the chance of genuine risks being missed."

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