Boris Johnson’s political survival could come at the cost of Britain’s rule of law

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Wednesday, April 20, 2022 6:00 a.m.

By:

Eliot Wilson

Eliot Wilson is a co-founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons official.

Boris Johnson faces a vote on deceit in Parliament on Thursday. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Last week embodied a favorite phrase among political pundits: it was a “murderous week” for the government. This one, so far, is not looking much better, after Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis likened the fines imposed on the Prime Minister and Chancellor to speeding tickets.

The partygate fines have been full of hyperbole. That Johnson has become the first sitting prime minister to break the law seems dramatic. But it takes a step back. Although issuing a fixed fine notice indicates that the police believe the Prime Minister has broken the law, it does not amount to a criminal conviction and will not be formally recorded. Boris Johnson now has no “criminal record”.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar QC, a junior minister but a senior and experienced silky, added spice by resigning. In his eloquent and legal letter to the Prime Minister, he said the “scale, context and nature” of the breach of the rules was “inconsistent with the rule of law”.

It was the same Brandon Lewis, who brought Britain’s allegiance to the rule of law in question, when he told the House of Commons in September 2020 that the government was breaking international law – d in a ‘specific and limited way’ – with legislation to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill. His outspokenness caused dismay and fury: the government’s top legal official, Sir Jonathan Jones QC, resigned in protest.

This is clearly an unedifying series of law-breaking actions by the government that do nothing for the UK’s reputation abroad – the so-called ‘global Britain’ that we let’s continue. But there is something more too. In this post-Brexit era, the UK must work harder than ever to define and promote why it remains a financially and commercially competitive place to do business. And it has long been argued that the rule of law is one of the things that gives the UK a competitive edge.

Yesterday the CEO of Centrica reminded us why we trust the Tories and not Labor with this coat. Putting aside the relative burdens of different tax regimes, a “single” tax on windfall profits would undermine the principles of stability and predictability that make the UK an attractive place to do business, he said. he declares.

Are conservatives now rushing towards a similar disregard for certainty? Is the behavior of senior ministers actively damaging the UK’s reputation abroad? The World Justice Project uses data that suggests that our global “score” on this issue has declined over the past five or six years, but not dramatically. But the effect of these controversies can be corrosive. Combined with the government’s intentions to restrict judicial review, they erode the reputation of impartiality and independence and risk making the UK a country like any other where the judicial system is ‘negotiable’.

It is possible to dwell gravely on the status of the United Kingdom as the homeland of Magna Carta, the ancestor of the common law and the source of a thousand privileges great and small which protect the individual and his right to do business unhindered and safe from foolishness. It’s a strong brand, with plenty of merit, and a vital weapon in the arsenal to keep the UK competitive.

Yesterday Boris Johnson continued his tried defence: Dreadfully sorry, but there really are more important things to do.

It was Warren Buffett who said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” We must not lose sight of the government – ​​and that is an important thing, even if the ten minutes or so with a birthday cake were not. Beneath the slogans and leaflets there is potentially a great story in the Global Britain brand, but it needs to be built on solid foundations.

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