How can a government expect the people to follow the rules when the prime minister, MPs and Dominic Cummings are seen to openly flout them?
Johnson and his supporters have a long track record. They have undermined the judicial system and the judges. They have lied to the Queen about the proroguing of parliament. Now they plan to break international law with the consequential undermining of trust in any agreement the UK signs up to. This last ploy is more than taking a negotiating stance against the EU or trying to blame them for the consequences of Brexit. This is the breaking of an international agreement, which this government and this prime minister signed up to. Less than twelve months ago in the general election campaign, Boris Johnson had boasted that the Withdrawal Agreement was ‘oven ready’.
These actions can be regarded as not only disgraceful, but also as dangerous.
When a succession of ex prime ministers and figures such as Michael Howard and Theresa May call ‘foul’ you realise things are truly bad. And the issue of respect for the law come into sharper focus when the words of Margaret Thatcher are further recalled. “The first duty of government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty when it’s inconvenient, if government does that, then so will the governed, and then nothing is safe – not home, not liberty, not life itself.”
Back in April 2005 Alan Macfarlane, Professor of Anthropological Science, University of Cambridge, wrote in the Times Education Supplement:
“The ‘rule of law’ depends on uniform application of laws and a common procedure. It means that the legal process should be separated off from the political process, that the judges and the courts should be independent. All of this is difficult to sustain. Powerful forces, economic and political, are constantly hoping to bias law in their direction. It has not been an easy principle to maintain and it is very fragile, as we see all around us.
“These separations are particularly fragile in times of war, whether during real wars such as the Second World War, or during invented or ideological wars, which are such a strong feature of our world. The latter category includes the ‘wars’ against medieval heretics, through the ‘wars’ against Satan and his empire of witches, down to the ‘wars’ against communism in the McCarthy purges of the 1950’s up to the present ‘wars’ against terrorism. In each case there are serious erosions of civil liberties and the crushing of legal independence. We can see this all too clearly in the United States and Britain today as fear and panic is stoked up and used to justify the suspension of normal legal rights.
“The degree to which the public trust and feel safe is deeply affected by the executors of the law…”
How can anyone trust the slogans and policies the government presents us with or feel safe when Matt Hancock implores us all to ‘follow the rules’ during the Covid pandemic while at the same time the government itself is prepared to break its own international agreements?
Making an ass of the law fatally weakens the compliance that the public normally offers the government of the day. With that gone, any chance of managing Covid-19 is placed in real jeopardy.