Upholding international law must be the cornerstone of our politics - David Lammy

The rule of law is a simple, but revolutionary idea founded on two principles. First, there should be no power beyond or above the law. Second, the law applies equally to all people.For centuries, the United Kingdom helped to forge the idea of the rule of law, constraining political power, protecting civil liberties, and articulating fundamental rights.

From the Magna Carta in 1215, to the Charter of the Forest in 1217, the Petition of Right in 1628, the Bill of Rights in 1689, right up to the Human Rights Act in 1998.

The rule of law is not a Labour or Conservative value. It is our common inheritance. No party owns it. No government should squander it.

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So bipartisan was the British devotion to this idea that we became the global home of the law. Businesses from around the world flocked to Britain to write contracts in English law and settle disputes in our courts. They did this because they trusted us.

David Lammy is Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty ImagesDavid Lammy is Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty Images
David Lammy is Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary. PIC: Leon Neal/Getty Images

At the heart of that trust was a simple principle: whichever party was in government, the rule of law would be respected.

It was a shameful moment in the modern history of this country, when the Government announced, almost with pride, that its Internal Markets legislation would break international law “in a specific and limited way”, as if that were some form of acceptable mitigation.

The government undermined the countless years in which we have sought to occupy a leadership role in international law.

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At a stroke, the Tories signalled to the world, including those contemplating entering trade agreements with us, that we might sign an agreement one day, only to disavow our legal obligations under it later if politically inconvenient.

The pattern has been repeated in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Illegal Immigration Bill and the Economic Activity of Public Bodies Bill. And it was only concerted campaigning from Labour that ensured that the Overseas Operations Act passed without original clauses that breached the Geneva Convention.

All of this at the same time as threatening to repeal the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

International law is often the quiet miracle supporting modern economic and political life.

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With Keir Starmer in Number 10, the rules will be clear. Ministers will be bound to comply with international law.

We will commit to staying a part of the European Convention on Human Rights – stopping it being used as a political football by the Tory right.

And as Yvette Cooper, Labour’s next Home Secretary, has said we will end the gimmick of the unworkable Rwanda scheme, the money saved to set up a new cross-border police unit to crack down on smuggling gangs.

We will stand up for human rights and challenge impunity.

At the UN we will partner with like-minded countries to build a coalition who support the suspension of the veto in cases of mass atrocities.

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When the next Labour government makes foreign policy, all of our choices will be underpinned by a fundamental belief in the rule of law.

An abridged version of a speech delivered by David Lammy, Shadow Foreign Secretary, at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law.