Boris Johnson shows why it’s crucial our politicians respect rule of law

  • First published in : Visit Website
  • First published on: 15th Apr 2022

It’s been another week of Tories thumbing their nose at the rule of law and getting away with it. Of course, the big news was the fines imposed on the PM and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for breaking their own lockdown laws. The right thing to do would be for them to resign. Particularly as the PM misled parliament with repeated assurances that no rules had been broken. If this was deliberate - and how could it not be – then the ministerial code of conduct states he must resign. But, of course, he won’t.  

Instead, the UK Government has chucked a great big dead cat on the table to try and distract us with the appalling proposal to forcibly fly asylum seekers arriving via the channel 4,000 miles across the world to Rwanda on a one-way ticket. The Home Secretary describes these people as “illegal immigrants’ even though her own figures show that two thirds go on to be granted refugee status by the home office. 

Rwanda does not have a good human rights record. Only last year at the UN the UK itself demanded investigations about alleged killings, disappearances, and torture in Rwanda. Is this really an appropriate environment into which we should send vulnerable asylum seekers? It seems that male asylum seekers will be sent to Rwanda regardless of where they have come from so the UK could be deporting traumatised Afghans, Ukrainians, and Uighurs. Is this really what we have come to? What kind of conditions will they be kept in? What happens to them if the Rwandan authorities decide not to accept them after processing?

Meanwhile all this is going on while parliament is in recess so there can be no proper scrutiny.

A Tory junior minister was left spluttering on the Today programme yesterday when he was asked why people should stick to legal migration routes when the PM himself has acted outside the law. Why shouldn’t the UK allow refugees who arrive by so-called illegal routes (a concept which doesn’t exist in international law) to say sorry and move on like the PM and his cronies?  It’s a good question.

The attitude that laws are for the little people is one which is deeply embedded in the Tory party. Earlier in the week Crispin Blunt MP, erstwhile Chair of Westminster’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ rights, took it upon himself to question the verdict of a jury who had convicted his Tory MP colleague, Imran Ahmad Khan, of sexually assaulting a child.  It turned out that Blunt had sat in only on the defence evidence and the summing up, yet he thought he was better placed to reach a verdict than the jury who heard all the evidence. This may sound familiar to viewers in Scotland. It also happened recently in England when Tory MPs questioned the verdict of the jury in the trial of the Colston four who were acquitted of criminal damage by toppling the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston. In what is clearly a politically motivated move the directions given to the jury have now been made the subject of a rare referral to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General, Suella Braverman.

Did Blunt think it was ok for a middle-aged man to sexually assault a 15-year-old boy? He tried to imply that the conviction was motivated by homophobia. The outcry was immediate and came largely from his colleagues in the LGBT+ rights group.  What I and other members of the group found particularly disgusting was that he should somehow invoke LGBT+ rights to trump child safeguarding. He has a history of weaponizing LGBT+ rights in his secret campaigning against women’s rights, but it is even worse to do it to defend someone found guilty of child sex offences.

Worse still, he seemed to imply that his status as a former justice minister somehow gave him a unique locus to question the verdict. He resigned as Chair of the APPG and he was right to do so. But his position as an MP should also be in question. It is completely inappropriate for members of parliament to attack and undermine the criminal justice process by questioning jury verdicts in this way.

Sadly, Scotland is not without its politicians whose attitude towards the rule of law is also rather casual. Many of my friends in the legal profession were shocked at the high-level political questioning of the jury’s verdicts of acquittal in the Salmond case. But it doesn’t end there. In the past week both Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie have displayed an extraordinary insouciance towards human rights and equality law by seeking to brand women (and yes it was women they were after as usual) who question legislative proposals based on gender identity theory as “transphobic” and akin to “racists” “anti-semites”. Ms Slater wants us banned from the airwaves. Mr Harvie wants us disciplined by our parties.

Both of these politicians need to acquaint themselves with Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protect freedom of belief and freedom of speech in this country. They could also do with reading and understanding the Equality Act and the decision of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in case of Maya Forstater v CGD Europe which established that discrimination, harassment, and victimisation against persons of gender critical belief is unlawful under the Equality Act. While this was an employment law case the prohibition of this sort of discrimination applies to membership organisations, including political parties, in respect of their members. The Green Party of England and Wales is currently being sued by a former leadership candidate for such discrimination. No doubt this is why sensible political parties in Scotland are not pursuing complaints against women merely for holding and expressing such views in the way that Mr Harvie indicated he would like done during a GMS interview yesterday. He and Ms Slater would also do well to take a look at the Public Sector Equality Duty which obliges those in government to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different protected characteristics. There is no hierarchy of protected characteristics in this country.

But back to Boris, as we must.  It seems likely that this week’s fine could be the first of several for the PM because it is clear that there was repeated rule breaking at Downing Street throughout the pandemic. This fine is modest because it is simply for attending an event but if the PM is found to have organised events, for example in his private flat, the fines could be much heftier – up to £10,000. Could he really survive a fine of that level? His own junior justice minister, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar QC, clearly thinks he shouldn’t. His resignation letter got to the heart of the matter and explained why it is so wrong to use the war in Ukraine as an excuse for Johnson staying on. He said:

“The rule of law is a constitutional principle which, at its root, means that everyone in a state, and indeed the state itself, is subject to the law.  …we can only undertake… legal reforms at home – and also credibly defend democratic norms abroad, especially at a time of war in Europe – if we are, and are seen to be, resolutely committed both to the observance of the law and also to the rule of law.”

He’s right. The Tories may be the worst offenders but politicians across the UK would do well to remember this. Johnson needs to go. If he doesn’t then the unwritten checks and balances of the British constitution will have failed, irredeemably.  

Joanna Cherry QC MP


    • Joanna Cherry 139 Dundee Street, EH11 1BP
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