Brexit Britain must not abandon UK’s best values – Scotsman comment

As leading Conservative politicians pointed out following the publication of the UK Internal Markets Bill, adherence to the rule of law is vital

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 12:30 pm
Boris Johnson should abandon his plans to break international law by going back on the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU (Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire)

The decision by Boris Johnson to illegally prorogue parliament in order to prevent MPs from interfering with the UK government’s Brexit plans was an alarming sign that he is a Prime Minister who does not care much for democracy and the rule of law.

But at least he attempted to argue – until corrected by Scotland’s Court of Session and then the UK Supreme Court – that what he was doing was legal. In a sympathetic interpretation of events, he made a mistake, rather than actively choosing to become an “outlaw premier”.

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However, the admission by a Government minister on Tuesday that the UK Internal Markets Bill would breach international law was an utterly shocking one, even if delivered so casually, and its publication yesterday confirmed that this really is what Johnson and co are threatening to do.

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Bob Neil, the Conservative chair of the justice select committee, pointed out that any potential breach of the UK’s international legal obligations was “unacceptable”, adding that “adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable”.

Former prime minister Theresa May questioned how the government would “reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations of the agreements it signs?” And the Conservative chair of the defence select committee, Tobias Ellwood, warned it would “severely weaken” the UK’s ability to hold countries like China, Russia and Iran to account when they fail to live up to international agreements.

The bill was also being described as akin to pressing the nuclear button in the talks with the EU, which has asked for an emergency meeting with the UK to discuss its implications. It increases the very real danger of a no-deal Brexit, which would deal a hammer blow to businesses across the country who are already struggling to cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

If all that was not enough, there are very real fears it will damage the Northern Ireland peace process – far from protecting it as Johnson claims – and, rightly or wrongly, the SNP described its provisions as “nothing short of an attack on Scotland’s parliament” because of implications for devolution. Given Brexit was already a major factor in the rising support for independence, the SNP will be delighted that Johnson has presented them with more arguments to deploy on the doorstep. Unionists may wish to remind Johnson that one of the UK’s most attractive qualities is that it is a place where the rule of law is respected.

“Brexit Britain” will be a very different place if it abandons such principles.

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