As someone who is passionately pro-European, the Brexit process is painful enough as it is. Now, the government are rubbing salt into the wound. Breaking international law is a new low.
The UK has left the EU. All that needed to be done, voters were told,was for Boris Johnson to implement his “oven ready” deal, including his Withdrawal Agreement. It seemed, frustratingly enough for those of us who fought tirelessly to stop Brexit, that the case was almost closed. The Conservatives stood on a manifesto that championed the Withdrawal Agreement and each Tory MP elected pledged to vote in favour of this agreed deal. In December and January, immediately after winning a huge majority, they duly did so – ensuring that the Agreement passed effortlessly.
At every step of the Brexit process, Liberal Democrats were clear in our pro-EU position and I will always be proud that we stuck to our guns on that. We marched in the streets, we marched in the Parliamentary lobbies, and we were resolute that the UK would bebetter off remaining at the heart of Europe. But, after Johnson’s General Election success, it became clear that Brexit was happening. We’d managed to delay it several times, but it wasclear that there was now no way to stop him from pushing forward with his deal.
Now, the same Tory MPs who were told in December that they had to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement are being told they have to vote against it. And in doing so, they have to vote in favour of the UK breaking international law.
The situation is so risible that some amongst this most loyal of Tory cohorts are finding it difficult to swallow. Several Tories have rebelled on the Internal Market Bill and many have spoken publicly about the damage this disregard for the rule of law will do to our country internationally.
As Tobias Ellwood, Tory MP and Chair of the Defence Committee, has pointed out: how can we expect countries like China to abide by international law and the agreements we have signed with them if we don’t?
How can we defend the people of Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration if we don’t stick to our end of the bargain when it comes to other agreements?
It used to be that the rule of law was a non-partisan issue. That however other party lines were drawn, you could be certain that all MPs from all parties had the integrity to commit to the rule of law. This was a staple of British values, taught in our schools and championed in our Parliament. Now it seems that certainty is lost to a bygone era.
From the unlawful prorogation of Parliament, to breaking lockdown to test one’s eyesight, to an utter disregard for international law: Boris Johnson’s government have made it very clear that it is one rule for them and another for everyone else.
All this at a time when we’ve been told we’re all in it together. While the pandemic ravages our population, economy, and jobs across the country, we are told that at least we’re all in the same boat. Yet now the government are sending a very clear message: While they sail on in a super yacht, the rest of us must patiently and dutifully stay in our dinghies.
For a government to break the law at any time would be unacceptable. But right now it’s unbelievably irresponsible..
To fight Coronavirus effectively we need people to abide by the rules and obey the laws. It’s been tough on everyone and it will continue to be tough. These are some of the most far-reaching draconian laws we’ve ever experienced. But we’ve all followed them in order to protect each other and save lives. By breaking the law, Boris Johnson sets an example that undermines this message and the unity that has got us through these difficult months.
I am a Liberal. Always have been. And because of that, I am a European. I believe in tearing down walls, not building them. And I believe firmly in democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. As Liberal Democrat leader I am clear that these are the values we most fight for. That is why my party is focusing on opposing Johnson’s efforts to break the law, preventing a no-deal Brexit, and stopping any rushed Brexit deal that would be bad for the country I love so much.
At a time when we are already battling with the impact of Coronavirus, it is unthinkable that any more pressure would be added to our NHS, jobs, and the economy. That is why Liberal Democrats oppose this embarrassing and unlawful Internal Market Bill.
• Ed Davey is leader of the Liberal Democrats.