“In order to be considered truly free, countries must also have a deep love of liberty and an abiding respect for the rule of law.” Margaret Thatcher
Today, Conservative MPs will vote on whether the British Government can break the law.
I still can’t believe I wrote those words. Astonishingly, the Conservative Party, that boasts that it is the party of Law and Order, wants to legislate to break the law in a “limited and specific” way.
Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was illegal. At that stage he still had the decency to pretend he was acting within the law. Now, even that pretence has been shed. He, and the government he leads, has not a single shred of shame about what they propose.
Will it actually happen? The omens are not good. We’ve just heard Theresa Villiers on the Today Programme tell us that everybody breaks International Law, so we should too. If this is the attitude of the Conservative Party towards International Law then it does not bode well for the future.
A move that should have sparked a slew of cabinet resignations has resulted in: silence. Even the law officers, who have sworn an oath to uphold the rule of law, remain firmly at their government posts. The Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, has said he would only resign in the face of an “unacceptable” breach of the law. Seriously, the Justice Secretary is weighing up acceptable and unacceptable law breaking by the government that he serves.
The only resignation so far, the only person to have shown any honour, was a civil servant, Sir Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary to the Government Legal Department.
But it’s not just that the Internal Market Bill breaks Britain’s promises, it’s the way it seeks to do it. Section 45(4)(g) states that the bill overrides “any other legislation, convention or rule of international or domestic law whatsoever, including any order, judgement or decision of the Europe Court or of any other court or tribunal.” In other words, government ministers can act without any check on their powers by parliament or the courts.
The Withdrawal Agreement is, of course, a terrible agreement. It creates a border down the Irish Sea. The government knew this when they signed it. Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary when Theresa May rejected this solution as unacceptable to any British Prime Minister.
Unacceptable to any British Prime Minister except Johnson, that is. He signed it and boasted that it was a great victory, a diplomatic triumph. He fought a general election on the back of it and won a resounding majority where he made each prospective MP promise to uphold the agreement. The very same agreement he is now demanding that they all vote against.
We learn from Bernard Jenkin that Johnson promised the agreement could be rejected after it was signed. “I promise to break my promise”, as one commenter wryly put it, is hardly a basis for building trust.
And now this super patriot, this diplomatic genius, this heroic defender of British sovereignty, is seeking to trash Britain’s international reputation for good. Britain has already become a laughing stock because of Brexit, but at least Britain still had a reputation for keeping its word, for honouring its commitments. Now Johnson seeks to destroy even that. Honestly, I despair of what has become of my country.
Conservative MPs could vote for this, in which case Britain’s reputation is finished, or they could reject it and this government would finally be restrained. Either way, it will be a momentous vote.