Friday 11 September 2020

The British Government and the rule of law

 This week something happened that I never believed I would see in my lifetime. A democratically elected British government announced in Parliament that it was going to break international law and flout legally binding international agreements. Lets start by stating that this is nothing to do with Brexit, much as how the government may try and present it. It is about our credibility and international standing in the world. There are many risks, and the one bulwark defence we have is the law. We see the Russian government poisoning political opponents. We see the Chinese government flouting the Hong Kong agreement. We see all manner of tinpot dictators flouting the law around the world. The UK and our allies do follow the rule of law, this gives us strength of purpose and unity. After the second world war, the Nuremburg trials were held under British law, with the blessing of Stalin and Roosevelt, because they recognised that it would ensure that people took the verdicts seriously and would recognise that they were legally properly constituted. When you consider how many citizens of the USSR died and how strong the calls for revenge were, it is a demonstration of how highly the British respect for law was considered.

Eighty years ago today, the Battle of Britain was raging over our skies. Britain had declared war on Germany because Germany had broken international treaties. They had demonstrated that they were untrustworthy. I was lucky that I have the perspective of my Father, who was a WW2 bomber pilot. He was inspired to enlist for pilot training by the antics of the British airmen bravely resisting such tyranny. When you enlist in the RAF you are not just trained to fly a plane. You are taught that you are upholding the law. You are taught that by following the Geneva convention, you save British lives. An enemy is far more likely to surrender and lay down their arms if they know they will be treated fairly and according to the law, rather than taken behind the bike sheds and shot. As Germany collapsed, there was a rush of Wehrmacht troops flocking to surrender to the British, as they knew we'd not ship them off to camps and starve them. It is the basis of our state. Last night, even the Speaker of the House in the USA was criticising the UK, this is a level of the depths we've sunk to. 

These lessons were drummed into me. The Government of Boris Johnson has shown that it is prepared to flout the law. The Dominic Cummings incident was an indicator. The announcement this week is a seismic step change. If Parliament stands by and lets this pass, we are as nothing. Parliament needs to stand up and assert its authority. They need to make it clear that the UK follows the law. The argument that UK sovereignty trumps international treaties is the sort of argument that a dictator uses and is not worthy of us. The government has made a complete hash of Brexit. The way out of this is not to destroy our credibility in the eyes of the world. 

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