There used to be (may well still be) an enjoyable pastime for readers of Robert Fisk’s articles: a point by point rebuttal of the factual errors and other idiocies contained in them. Other journalists can be fisked with equal pleasure. At one point there was a veritable cottage industry dependant on Polly Toynbee’s output. So on a rainy day starting a new week of political fun and games, it is time to revive this practice and apply it to another journalist and current PM, Boris Johnson.
Let’s start with the Tory Manifesto in 2019, that veritable Bible of cast-iron promises to us, the voters. We must surely be able to rely on these.
- “We have a great new deal that is ready to go”. This great new deal is the Withdrawal Agreement (“WA”) agreed on 17 October 2019, implemented into UK law by the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 (the “Act”) on 23 January 2020 and coming into force on 1 February 2020.
- “As Conservatives, we stand for democracy and the rule of law. Our independent courts and legal system are respected throughout the world.” (Nice touch that – “As Conservatives…” in case anyone wasn’t sure quite who they were speaking as.)
- “We will continue to be an outward-looking country that is a champion of collective security, the rule of law, human rights, free trade, anti-corruption efforts and a rules-based international system.” Very keen on the rule of law, this government. And championing a rules-based international system …. well, it fair makes you proud to be British to think that Britannia will be doing her bit, as she’s always done. And no doubt singing lustily about it too.
- ”We want EU citizens who came to live in the U.K. before Brexit to stay – and we have committed absolutely to guaranteeing their existing rights and ensuring that they feel a welcomed and valued part of our country and community after Brexit.” Those guarantees are contained in the Act.
Then there is this statement (issued by the PM a mere two days ago, a ringing endorsement of the importance of a free press and its role in holding governments to account (no laughing at the back, please). It’s worth spelling out what the British PM said:
“A free press is vital in holding the government and other powerful institutions to account on issues critical for the future of our country, including the fight against climate change. It is completely unacceptable to seek to limit the public’s access to news in this way.”
Hear! Hear! That’s Extinction Rebellion told (though any group stupid enough to try to prevent the physical movement of newspapers which can easily be read on the internet, has bigger problems than being told off by the PM). And welcome too at a time when the trial of some of those involved in the Charlie Hebdo massacres over 5 years ago has just started. A more careful reading shows that the PM’s statement it is not quite as supportive of press freedom as one might ideally like. Apparently, the need to hold governments to account is only on issues critical to the country’s future (quite a limited group that and who decides what is critical anyway). Still, let’s be thankful for small mercies. Even the manifesto made a point of saying: “We will continue our campaigns to promote international media freedom.”
And then there is today’s Prime Ministerial statement about the post-Brexit trade negotiations with the EU, making the not unreasonable point that: “If we can’t agree…., then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.” Quite a lot to be unpacked in that phrase “move on”. But let’s leave that for another day for now.
Then this little gem: “We will then have a trading arrangement with the EU like Australia’s.” Oh dear.
Time for a few facts.
- The WA and the Act implementing it in the U.K. impose a legally binding solution avoiding a hard border in Ireland and protecting the Good Friday Agreement. All these agreements are now part of English law as well as international law and the rules-based international order.
- As a result of the Act, the WA’s provisions have direct effect in English law meaning that any concerned party (not just the EU – but, say, a EU citizen living in Britain) can take action in respect of its provisions in the English courts. The Act also makes clear that the terms of the WA will be enforceable by UK courts after 31 December 2020.
- Furthermore, the Act gives the WA supremacy over U.K. law. So if a future law is passed which is inconsistent with the WA the courts would have to disapply that later law, unless Parliament specifically and clearly instructs the courts in any such new law to disregard the WA’s terms.
- If the British government, as reported, now seeks to pass a new law disapplying some of the WA provisions it has previously agreed to and implemented, it sets the stage for some wonderfully interesting and complex litigation before the English courts. Perhaps this is what the Tory party wanted when it so extensively praised the rule of law in its manifesto and talked about “Unleashing Britain’s Potential”. It was going to unleash the potential of Britain’s lawyers. Hooray!
- If there is no FTA between the EU and the U.K. by 31 December 2020, the U.K. will not have a trading arrangement like the one Australia currently has with the EU. It will have no trading arrangement. None. It will, as far as the EU is concerned, be a third country.
- Australia’s arrangement is not the default. Why? Well, the current trading arrangements are based on the 2008 EU-Australian Partnership Framework, a fancy word for a general agreement to be friends. The key point is that it is an agreement. If Britain leaves the transition period with no agreement, some alternative agreement – whether like the Australian or any other one – does not magic itself into existence. The PM’s statement on this is, bluntly, an untruth.
- And what of the press statement. Surely that it true? Surely? Well, just as the PM and his faithful mini-me’s in the party were busy issuing Tweets criticising XR, the Council of Europe, founded on 5 May 1949 by the U.K., amongst others, issued a Level 2 alert about the Ministry of Defence blacklisting journalists in relation to inquiries about the war in Yemen. This was classified in the category marked “acts having a chilling effect on media freedom”. The only other state so criticised that week in this category was Russia. Bulgaria also got criticised – but in the category marked “Attacks on the physical safety and integrity of journalists”. Britain is not (yet) in such company.
Let’s be parochial for now and not worry about international treaties and what the EU or other countries or high-minded interfering foreign bodies might think of us. Many in Britain (not just those who voted for Brexit) felt that they were asked a question by the government in 2016 and then, because the answer was not liked, they were ignored. Whatever the ins and outs, it looked as if everything was being done not to implement what people had voted for. This was felt to be a breach of the trust essential in a democracy.
So – one question: if the government now seeks to break those laws, those agreements it freely entered into less than a year ago (and praised to the skies), why should any voter, any person living here or doing business here or with us or lending us money, trust this government to keep its word, its manifesto promises, its commitments, its laws? And if they can’t, what then?