Sunday 13 September 2020

On Tory Law Breaking

It's the most ambitious crossover event since Brownites and Blairites teamed up to do in the Corbyn project. Writing for the Sunday Times, John Major and Tony Blair have attacked the government for its stated intention to break the Withdrawal Agreement Boris Johnson signed last October, and was voted into UK law in January. They condemn the government's posturing as irresponsible and the damage it's causing the country's international reputation. And who can disagree?

It's long been the contention of this blog that the Tories articulate the interests of the most backward sections of the business class, whether it concerns Coronavirus management or, for that matter, everything else. Indeed, over the course of the last five years the horizon of Tory ambition has contracted quite sharply to the day-to-day survival of the Tory party itself and, latterly, the career of Johnson himself. Major and Blair, as hangovers from a previous age of establishment politics, are aghast because they know, and it's hardly the keenest of insights, that the extreme short-termism of contemporary Tory politics goes beyond discrediting the occupant of Downing Street: it imperils the authority of the state itself.

When Johnson tried rushing Brexit through with unseemly haste last Autumn, it was because his project was time limited. Get Brexit done as quickly as possible, purge the critics, and win an election without dragging it out. The game plan was plain as day from day one of the Tory leadership contest. And so when leading Tories prattle on about unforeseen political circumstances and the pressure the Prime Minister was under to get a deal, the pressure was entirely his. He determined the timetable, he determined the bombastic and reckless approach, and he determined the limited window for scrutiny in the Commons. The unprecedented situation was entirely the government's own contrivance, and the customs border in the Irish Sea between the north and mainland Britain a detail Johnson reinserted into the agreement after Theresa May had excised it.

For Major and Blair, and the grandees who've chipped in this last week, there are three chief concerns. The avoidance of the hardest of hard Brexits, which would exacerbate the problems of Britain's weak economy - already cratered by Tory policy pre- and post-Covid. There's the small matter of other governments wary of signing up to anything with the UK if treaties are rode over roughshod for politically expedient reasons, a message reinforced by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this last week. And as for authority at home, if it's okay for the government to break the law in a "very specific and limited way", the state runs the risk of undermining respect for the law for everyone else. Consider the widespread consequences of the Dominic Cummings affair, for example. Without the cloak of the law the real underpinning of state authority, that might is right, is exposed. Tory legal shenanigans short circuit the constitutional flummery on which its legitimacy rests, and who knows what might flow from this down the line. From their point of view, Major and Blair are right to be concerned.

This is one of those rare occasions where the interests of the left and part of the bourgeois establishment episodically align. The law, like all other aspects of the state is a terrain of struggle and a useful tool for checking the arbitrary exercise of executive power. Where we depart from our temporary comrades the former Prime Ministers is the refusal to fetishise law as something sacrosanct. The law is frequently wrong and unjust because of its class character, and as such it is entirely right it be defied in some circumstances, dependent on the politics of the situation and the nature of the struggle. And besides, mainstream politicians are prepared to act unlawfully if they too believe it suits their interests - as one of the two men taking Johnson to task did so spectacularly, until the United Nations provided necessary legal cover after the fact. Nevertheless, this is a thin end of a thick wedge. The Home Office routinely tries deporting people in defiance of court orders, the trial of Julian Assange, whatever one may think of him, is a travesty of legal process, the government ignores the law to dish out juicy Covid-19 contracts to their cronies, and the attempt by Suella Braverman and Robert Buckland - the attorney general and justice secretary respectively - to soft soap treaty breaking is more than a pattern of behaviour. It's a strategy aimed at hobbling the courts, protecting themselves from legal scrutiny and challenge, and allowing the government to do as it pleases. It's the same species of authoritarianmism we've seen from Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, and Poland's Andrzej Duda, albeit with British, Johnsonian characteristics.

Major and Blair have called on MPs to reject the internal market legislation due to come before the Commons tomorrow. For its part, Labour have said it will vote against it if the law breaking provisions are not removed. There's excitable talk of up to 30 Tories rebelling (recent history suggests no one shouldn't hold their breath), and then tying it all up in the Lords. All of which suits Johnson as long as he can convince the Tory base about how the remainers are ganging up to steal their Brexit again, but given how it's his own deal he's now opposing this will stretch the credulity of some. But the theatre, which the Tories are increasingly dependent on, is all that really matters. As Buckland said in his Andrew Marr interview, the proposed legislation won't come into force if the government and EU agree a trade deal anyway. Johnson thinks the noise now is worth the consequences that may never come, though as Major and Blair are right to point out, the casualty of this reckless approach will be the Tory objective of advantageous bilateral trade deals.

This is a pattern we've seen before with Dave and May, one in which increasingly risky bets are placed on gambles offering ever diminishing returns. Being seen to posture and act tough versus the UK's intergovernmental reputation as a respecter of treaties is the dilemma. Given this choice, for Johnson there is no contest. The short-term perception of personal and party political advantage wins out every time.

Image Credit


david walsh said...

"For its part, Labour have said it will vote against it if the law breaking provisions are not removed" Has it ? Explicitly ?

Phil said...

According to Rachel Reeves on Andrew Marr this morning!

Richard said...

I'm sure Johnson and co have always known this bill will never get to Act. So why promote it? My guess is that they are gambling that the EU will end talks with the UK so that the UK ends up with a no deal exit from the EU. The EU can and will be blamed for the ensuing chaos. We can see the drums beating now,the EU trying to divide Britain. The hard Tory voters have never had a Tory leader who has so clearly voiced their vicious imperialist and nationalist instincts. They've got one now.

Dipper said...

LMAO. Loving the outraged posturing by Remainers.

So, for clarity, you all would accept the effective annexation of NI by the EU?

This would clearly be a breach of the GFA. I look forward to the surviving terrorists being returned to prison.

Phil said...

More to the point, why did Johnson conceive, design, and insert this into his withdrawal agreement and say his Brexit was the best thing since sliced bread? No matter how you dice it this "annexation" as you ridiculously put it is entirely a Tory innovation. That's how much Johnson cares for your precious union.

Blissex said...

«So, for clarity, you all would accept the effective annexation of NI by the EU?»

As our blogger has pointed out, that "annexation" in the Withdrawal Treaty has been signed by Boris Johnson and made into law by a a vote with a large majority in the Commons. Are nearly all Conservative MPs quislings on the EU payroll? Alternatively, has the EU has got such "kompromat" that the Johnson government were blackmailed into surrendering to a Withdrawal Agreement that they did not have to do? Because as J Rees-Mogg kept saying, it was perfectly legal to brexit with no Withdrawal Treaty and just "walk away".

Blissex said...

«I'm sure Johnson and co have always known this bill will never get to Act.»

I would not be so sure.

«So why promote it?»

To me it looks like posturing that in a future election will be very useful to Johnson, blamin it all on the New Labour and LiDem quislings and a bunch of Conservative "useful idiots" who rejected the "save the union" bill. Since T May got 14.2m votes in 2017 by posturing as the Supreme Brexiter of the English Nationalist Party, the Conservatives have discovered a new lease of life. As our blogger says that has a short expiry date, but even in a few years a lot of money can be made by those with control of the government.

«My guess is that they are gambling that the EU will end talks with the UK»

That will never happen. They know very well how to play this game.

Boffy said...

Brexiteers always wanted to use NI as a Trojan Horse into the EU Single Market. Its why Villiers made such a play of saying that the question was not an issue. Gove wanted to accept May's deal in the knowledge that once signed, they would simply tear it up in practice as a result of their interpretation of "alignment", which would mean "divergence".

The WA drawn up originally by May, rejected by Johnson et al, but which he they then had to capitulate and accept in January to avoid a crash out No Deal, is designed to ensure that NI cannot act as such a Trojan Horse into the EU without the introduction of a border.

The Brexiteers have always been under the delusion that the EU needs UK more than UK needs EU. They thought they would get a deal on that basis. They won't. So, now Johnson is saying give us the deal or we will throw our dummy out. The EU won't respond to that tantrum, and as time moves on Johnson will be even more desperate to avoid a No Deal catastrophe, and so under even more pressure to capitulate again.

The idea they are going to become a rogue state and break international law is just more silly bluff and bluster by poker players with an empty hand that everyone knows has been empty from the start. Its still going to be a long extension of the TP, or a BRINO.

That's why Starmer's position is ludicrous not to mention unprincipled, because with BJ still not getting Brexit done, why would Labour not be pressing for Brexit to be reversed. An extension shows that Brexit is in practice not achievable, and BRINO is pointless. It shows that Brexit wa snot possible in practice, but also means accepting reality of abiding by EU rules to stay in the Single market, but having no political representation.

Corbyn's position was terrible, but Starmer's is much worse. His isolation comes at a conveninet time, as his lack of opposition will be exposed by the real opposition coming from the Tory benches. To be honest, if Starmer goes into isolation will anyone notice for what good he's been?

Shai Masot said...

The nightmare would be if the EU cave in. The Gammons would be jubilant and thr Tories would walk it in 2024.

Blissex said...

«Corbyn's position was terrible, but Starmer's is much worse.»

Corbyn's position was "accept the referendum result but keep the closest possible relationship to the EU". It was accepted by both the "Remainers" and "Leavers" among Labour members and voters, by large majorities, as a good compromise, even if equally large majorities would have preferred something more aligned to their own positions.

Starmer's positions seemed to me to be in the past "Push for 2nd referendum to eliminate Corbyn by losing the party the support of its large minority of Brexiters" at first and currently "now that Corbyn is eliminated, pivot to align with the position of an ultra-brexiter Conservative government to win a slice of their tory less-ultra brexiter vote".

Boffy said...

"Corbyn's position was "accept the referendum result but keep the closest possible relationship to the EU". It was accepted by both the "Remainers" and "Leavers" among Labour members and voters, by large majorities, as a good compromise, even if equally large majorities would have preferred something more aligned to their own positions."

Not true. The accept the referendum and remain as close to the EU as possible was not credible. It perpetuated the myth that a "good Brexit", or "Labour brexit" was possible, which it isn't. It amounts simply to a Utopian demand for having cake and eating it.

Neither Labour members, not Labour voters accepted that delusion. In Spring 2019, even 60% of Labour members, let alone Labour voters, voted for the Liberals, Greens or Plaid or SNP. Imagine how many more of the normal voters for these latter voters, who lent their votes to Labour in 2017, in the hope of stopping Brexit, deserted it to return to their natural homes!

In fact, in the Autumn of last year, a majority of Labour members and voters, including Leavers thought that the Liberals simple Stop Brexit message was preferable to the thoroughly confusing message that Labour was presenting.

Your further comment is just daft parroting Stalinoid conspiracy nonsense, more appropriate for the Morning Star or Spiked Online.

BCFG said...

Yes the demented anti lockdown, anti face mask fanatics who want to protect the 'economy', lets get people buying shit they don't need etc, include a large slice of Brexiters but most certainly those 5 million business owners and their families (who Boffy said were the backbone of Brexit) and oh of course Boffy himself, who is now very much part of the 5 million business owners and their families! Let us now say those 5 million business owners and their families and Boffy.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Telegraph printed a letter by Boffy, a letter which details Boffy's, erm, 'facts' about Covid. (sorry to any any data scientists out there but facts here is meant to be purely ironic)

And I am sure the Telegraph readers will be delighted if Boffy throws in some Marxist 'logic' (sorry philosophers logic here is meant to be purely ironic), such as, and here I paraphrase Boffy paraphrasing Marx:

"Every child knows that if man didn't pass a shop on their way to work and buy something they absolutely do not need then man will surely starve within the year"

Yes keep up the Marxism Boffy, it really makes me belly laugh!