Benedict Brogan at the Telegraph is a political journalist who is extremely well informed and worth reading if you want to know what is going on.
Wait a minute – let’s just rewind that…
Benedict Brogan at the Telegraph is a political journalist who is extremely well informed and worth reading if you want to know what is going on amongst the politicians, spin doctors and civil servants at Westminster.
Now, that’s better. If you want to know the latest gossip around the Westminster village, Benedict’s your man. But if you are curious about what people are thinking in Thurrock, or Lincoln or Wythenshawe he is as out of touch with what is happening as a middle aged dad at a One Direction concert or an official at the Tsar’s court in Petrograd in December 1916.
Benedict sees politics in the same way as a film places its focus on the stars as they walk around New York or Paris or Tokyo and the cabbies, shop assistants, hotel clerks and barmen are bit players rationed to about five sentences – and the rest of us are just anonymous silent pedestrians on the pavement or passengers on the train.
Hence his extraordinary endorsement of David Cameron as a man of principle who would be kept in Downing Street by a grateful electorate in 2015 as long as he ignores Tory backbenchers like Dominic Raab who proposed an amendment to the Immigration Bill which would have nullified the reach of the Human rights Act when the deportation of a foreign criminal was being considered.
Benedict was very sniffy about Cameron’s abstention on the Raab amendment.
Mr Cameron loved the idea but Government lawyers told him it was in fact illegal, and could not be allowed to pass. A government cannot legislate for an illegality without short-circuiting the basic wiring of the kingdom. We are a nation of laws and all that.
Yet rather than lead his party in opposing the measure, he allowed his MPs to abstain. A Prime Minister deliberately did not vote to uphold the law.
See the clue here? The amendment, which Benedict would doubtless characterise as “dancing to UKIP’s tune”, was a total waste of time because government lawyers said it was “illegal” – as if the view of one group of lawyers was the final arbiter of law
Well if that were the case then why do we bother to have courts? Surely the test of the legal position of any action is can only be administered and agreed or disagreed by a judge or judges presiding over a court and hearing arguments from different sets of lawyers. That, Benedict, is “the basic wiring of the kingdom that is what is meant when our country is described as “a nation of laws
But there is an even bigger issue here and one that is fundamental to the wiring of the kingdom for, unlike every other country in the EU, the principles embedded in “this nation of laws” are not mission statements compiled by a coven of academic bureaucrats convened by some Brussels diktat. They thread back through the centuries so that, even in 1628, when MPs, uncomfortable with King Charles I’s claim that royal prerogative justified his use of forced loans and taxes unendorsed by parliament, agreed the Petition of Right in protest against what they deemed as a flagrant disregard of England’s ancient laws
And whereas also by the statute called ‘The Great Charter of the Liberties of England,’ it is declared and enacted, that no freeman may be taken or imprisoned or be disseized of his freehold or liberties, or his free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.
So nearly 400 years ago, when people were fearing the prospect of an authoritarian central power attempting to ride roughshod over their deeply embedded legal traditions, they looked backward another 400 years to legitimise their grievances against the abuse of royal prerogative.
It’s interesting that they did not refer to “natural rights” that applied to all people by virtue of their humanity. It is also noteworthy that, in an age of intense religious belief, they did not publicly acknowledge these “rights” as the gift of a loving God. Instead they based their case on “the law of the land”, the birthright of every English citizen
In the next century Sir William Blackstone in his “Commentaries on the Laws of England” linked this concept of the law of the land with the authority of parliament – what we would call Parliamentary Sovereignty.
It were endless to enumerate all the affirmative acts of parliament wherein justice is directed to be done according to the law of the land: and what that law is, every subject knows; or may know if he pleases: for it depends not upon the arbitrary will of any judge; but is permanent, fixed, and unchangeable, unless by authority of parliament.
Some might say that opinions written in the 17th or 18th centuries have no relevance to our 21st century life and that our membership of the EU has diluted the notion of parliamentary sovereignty. This does appear to be the view of those “government lawyers” whose wisdom has so impressed Benedict Brogan.
Over the years, Parliament has passed laws that limit the application of parliamentary sovereignty. These laws reflect political developments both within and outside the UK.
- The devolution of power to bodies like the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.
- The Human Rights Act 1998.
- The UK’s entry to the European Union in 1972.
- The decision to establish a UK Supreme Court in 2009, which ends the House of Lords function as the UK’s final court of appeal.
Sadly successive parliaments have willingly embarked on these retreats from the law of the land. But those decisions do not in any way undermine the notion of parliamentary sovereignty because, intertwined in the very warp and weft of this concept is the principle that no parliament can bind a future parliament – and however much tame lawyers can squeak and squirm about not “legalising an illegality” if parliament is minded to do such a thing it can use due process to declare its will.
Although we in UKIP can justifiably argue the case against EU membership in economic and social terms we must also re-affirm our belief that submitting to the oversight of an external authority like the EU goes against the very nature of the law of our land and is a betrayal of those brave souls who risked all to preserve and protect our ancient liberties.