Next week MPs should demonstrate their commitment to the Rule of Lawby Murray Hunt / September 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
On Monday this week, the Russian Ambassador to the UK was summoned to the Foreign Office for the government to register its deep concern about the poisoning of opposition leader Alexey Navalny with the nerve agent Novichok. In an official statement, the Foreign Office said:
“The Foreign Secretary has made it clear that is absolutely unacceptable that a banned chemical weapon has been used, and that violence has again been directed against a leading Russian opposition figure. There is a case here for Russia to answer. This took place on Russian soil, against a Russian citizen. They have international obligations to uphold. This is nothing short of an attack against the rules-based international system which keeps our societies safe.”
The next day, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, candidly told the House of Commons that the government’s proposed legislation on the UK’s internal market “does break international law”—a confession borne out in spades when the bill itself was published on Wednesday.
Is this invocation of the rules-based international system and simultaneous introduction of international law-breaching legislation a circle that can be squared, or is it a case of Rule of Law doublespeak by the government? And, if the latter, what is the price the UK will pay as the world watches this unedifying spectacle play out?
The Rule of Law is a principle often invoked by all sides in a political argument, but there is now widespread consensus about its core meaning. The simple idea that no one is above the law, or that the law applies equally to all—in the memorable words of Lord Denning, “Be ye never so high, the law is above you”—means that governments (including ministers and officials) must comply with the law, including international law. In the words of Lord Bingham, the UK’s former senior law lord and author of the most accessible account of what is meant by the concept, “the rule of law requires compliance by the state with its obligations in international law as in national law.” It also requires access to an independent court or tribunal for the resolution of disputes, including over decisions taken by ministers.
The UK Internal Market Bill contains two major departures from the Rule of Law so conceived.
First, the bill contains provisions which would expressly empower ministers to make regulations that are in deliberate breach of the Withdrawal…