Brexit: Boris Johnson’s contempt for rule of law shows he is following Donald Trump’s sinister playbook – Kenny MacAskill

Boris Johnson’s Internal Market Bill and the threat to break the UK’s obligations under international law are signs that democracy in the UK is in trouble, writes Kenny MacAskill

Thursday, 17th September 2020, 7:30 am
Boris Johnson, seen sanitising his hands at a primary school in London, seems to be copying Donald Trump's political strategies, says Kenny MacAskill (Picture: Lucy Young/Evening Standard/PA Wire)

Our democracy is being corroded from within and our national institutions and civic beliefs are being hollowed out. The Johnson regime’s position on the Withdrawal Agreement and obligations under international law is the very nadir and unprecedented in modern times; explaining why every living premier has objected. For the first time in my life, I fear that our western values are being undermined and our democracy being imperilled.

Weasel words and frankly distortions by ministers, including from his own Justice Secretary, from whom I expected better, cannot hide the seriousness of what he’s prepared to contemplate. It’s a fundamental attack on the rule of law.

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Governments can break laws, but they usually do so unintentionally and hastily apologise for it, withdrawing whatever legislation they had planned.

To be seeking to make a virtue of it is simply disgraceful.

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Not only is it a clear breach of faith in negotiations with the EU but it diminishes Britain in the eyes of the world. Condemnation of Putin in the Crimea or lamentation at the USA’s failure to sign up for the International Criminal Court ring hollow. But Johnson and his parvenus are modelling themselves on the arch-chancer Trump and his playbook is being followed.

The President’s playing fast and loose and worse could be to come. It goes way beyond the hire-and-fire and tissue of lies that pour out of the White House on a daily basis. The separation of powers in America’s being undermined. It’s always been within the gift of a President to turn the attitude of the Supreme Court. Nominations could tilt it liberal or conservative, but nominees at least had credibility. Now people who you’d not seek the time of day from, let alone a legal opinion, are being elevated. The military’s similarly being pressurised.

In the UK, institutions and values are likewise being undermined. The BBC is being both neutered and politicised. Rendered supine by constant Tory threats and attacks, it has now capitulated under a Director General whose political affiliations have never been hidden, unlike the impartiality expected from every other member of staff. The absurd abandonment of live transmissions of the First Minister’s briefings, just as the crisis takes a turn for the worse, is a partisan policy demanded by ardent unionists.

Similarly, in the absence of a written constitution, access to the courts is essential.

Yet, a review to limit just that has been commenced. Prior engagement with the Scottish judiciary amounted to a phone call the night before it was announced. So much for a respect agenda, let alone protection of Scots law under the Treaty of Union. Of course, even the EU is experiencing it. Brutality by Spain going uncommented on and repressive actions in Hungary or Poland seemingly tolerated. Institutionalised racism in Salvini’s Italy was condoned and governments across the continent have pandered to, rather than confronted, illiberal views. Throughout my life things were improving from the carnage of war, now institutions’ values and even our democracy are imperilled.

Kenny MacAskill is the SNP MP for East Lothian

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