Why Boris Johnson’s stand-off with European Union is a failure of government – Bernard Ingham

Boris Johnson is under fire over his handling of Brexit.Boris Johnson is under fire over his handling of Brexit.
Boris Johnson is under fire over his handling of Brexit.
JUST as an Englishman’s home is his castle so an Englishman’s word is his bond? Or are they?

You had better keep the drawbridge up otherwise Warden Hodges, reincarnated as a “covid marshal”, will be cutting your house party down to size, though not necessarily if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

At the last count there were four different restriction regimes.

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As for our word being our bond, it seems we are about to blow that too.

Brexit continues to divide political and public opinion.Brexit continues to divide political and public opinion.
Brexit continues to divide political and public opinion.

Worse still, I am at a loss to understand how on earth we have got into this unfortunate position – that is, if we 

First, a bit of background. In my 11 years with Margaret Thatcher, she always had a lawyer at her elbow in both peace and war.

You might argue that this was because she was a lawyer herself, though specialising in tax issues.

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But she had, for example, seemingly endless consultations with international lawyers before she was convinced Ronald Reagan could lawfully teach that terrorist, Colonel Gaddafi, a lesson by bombing Tripoli.

Sir Bernard Ingham (left) says Maragret Thathcher had great respect for the rule of law.Sir Bernard Ingham (left) says Maragret Thathcher had great respect for the rule of law.
Sir Bernard Ingham (left) says Maragret Thathcher had great respect for the rule of law.

For her the rule of law was paramount. Hence – at least in part – the force of her stand against Arthur Scargill’s intimidating mobs.

I am, of course, aware that in going to war with Iraq, Tony Blair demonstrated that governments can wangle the law to their own ends.

But would anybody have thought that Boris Johnson might be capable of it, even allowing for his untidy approach to dress and life?

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Yet that is what he is being accused of over the trading position of Northern Ireland, not so much by the Opposition, but by his own side.

It would be easy to dismiss the allegation as a last throw of the Europhile dice if it were just being laid by John Major, Michael Heseltine and that monumental hypocrite, Tony Blair.

But those ennobled Brexiteers – ex-Tory leader, Michael Howard, and ex-Chancellor Norman Lamont – are up in arms about it, too.

What on earth is going on? I simply cannot imagine Mrs Thatcher failing to appreciate that the UK/EU Brexit agreement was deficient in a “specific and limited” way and therefore cheerfully signing it into international law.

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Why wasn’t the danger recognised that under the terms of the agreement the integrity of a UK single market 
would be compromised and Northern Ireland subject to special trading restrictions?

Is this evidence of Boris’s lack of attention to detail? Or did the Government, as is claimed, ignore the advice of lawyers at the time for the sake of a quick fix to be finessed later?

That would be consistent with the departure of the Government’s chief lawyer with news of a Bill to deal with the Brexit agreement’s deficiencies.

At all events, something went badly wrong nine months ago within the Government machine with the result that some fear we are ceding the moral high ground in the rule of law.

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“How”, asks Michael Howard, “can we reproach Russia, China or Iran when their conduct falls below internationally acceptable standards, when we are showing such scant regard for treaty obligations?”

The question would have more force
if Russia, China or Iran ever cared 
a fig for internationally accepted standards.

Let us also not forget that the constituent nations of the EU – and especially France and Germany – have a very relaxed approach to treaty obligations and the observance of EU

Otherwise, they would not be so lax in paying their whack to NATO – their ultimate guarantor of security – or in observing regulations churned out by Brussels.

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Mrs Thatcher used to say that the UK and Europe were fundamentally different. In Britain the view was that laws must be observed. In Europe observance was an “ambition” rather than a necessity.

And just how is it possible to square the fundamental protectionism of the EU with international standards?

More important, who gave the EU the right to interfere in an independent and sovereign UK’s single market by fettering trade between Northern Ireland and the UK mainland?

The least that can be said for it – and for Boris – is that we are not now trying to put this right secretly.

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Hang it all, we are about to ask Parliament to enact a Bill to preserve a single UK market.

In short, this is not as simple as it may seem. But we must not carelessly throw away our reputation for respecting treaties and the rule of law.

It is a valuable commodity in international relations. We must protect it through vigorous, reasoned argument.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson

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