Putting ministers above the law

25th Sep 2020
Putting ministers above the law

(Photo credit: Needpix Commons)

Under the guise of protecting the sovereignty of the UK, Boris Johnson’s Government is enacting a law to undermine the Withdrawal Act to leave the EU.

It is difficult to make sense of this, except in the context of Brexit representing the latest stage to “make Britain great again” as an independent country. The controversial Internal Market Bill seeks to purge every vestige of EU influence even if at the expense of breaching international law.

Oddly, it is being presented as if Johnson never understood his general election winning motto, ‘an oven-ready deal’, or if not, he never intended to honour it.

The writing was clearly on the wall when he was found guilty by the Supreme Court of proroguing Parliament unlawfully and remained uncontrite. The PM now wants to legislate a fantasy version of what he wished he had signed into reality.

Clauses in the new Bill will grant unilateral powers to ministers to override the withdrawal agreement yet are not to be regarded “as unlawful on the grounds of any incompatibility or inconsistency with relevant international or domestic law.”

Alarmingly, it seeks to indemnify the Government against any legal challenge relating to the use of its special powers — a law to put ministers above the law. It is a sinister constitutional absurdity, quite apart from the bad faith; it shows about painstaking Brexit negotiations.

All five former British PMs as well as all three former Tory attorney generals since 2010 have warned against passing such draconian legalisation that will make the UK into a pariah state outside any respect for international law.

So far only Rehman Chisti has resigned in protest as Johnson’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. Yet on the first reading, only two Tory MPs voted against the Bill, while no less than 328 from the ruling Tories, seven from the DUP and one independent, unbelievably voted in favour.

Surely Parliament cannot be allowed to acquiesce and damage the UK’s historic reputation. It depletes any moral authority we might summon as a democratic state criticising the action of authoritarian regimes.

It tells the world that Johnson sees international law as a mere footling and is disdainful enough that he can condone casual breaches for the sake of expediency. He has shown no signs of recognising how much harm this law might do, nor caring if he does. This is a direction in British statecraft that will be seen as akin to other despots.

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