Home Secretary Theresa May should tell us something we don’t know about Qatada

Bold as brass, our Home Secretary told parliament she believed the UK Government should abide by the rule of law. Well, fancy that!

Chris Bryant
Friday 26 April 2013 19:08
Jordanian terror suspect Abu Qatada arrives at his home in northwest London, after he was released from prison
Jordanian terror suspect Abu Qatada arrives at his home in northwest London, after he was released from prison

Consider this. The Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, stated on Wednesday, bold as brass, in public, actually in the House of Commons (and honestly, I’m not making this up): “I believe that the UK Government should abide by the rule of law.” In fact, she said it four times in a one hour-long session – and even went further, declaring: “It is important that the Government are willing to say that we abide not just by our rule of law, but by our international legal obligations.”

I know, deeply shocking, isn’t it? What on earth was she thinking? Whatever will she come up with next? Britain abide by her international obligations? What, as if we were a country of honour, where our word is our bond and all that kind of malarkey? Where will all this revolutionary talk end? I mean to say, just think what restrictions that would put on the government. They wouldn’t be able to arrest someone without citing due cause. They wouldn’t be able to tax people without the legal say-so of parliament. They wouldn’t be able to maintain themselves in power and refuse to hold free and fair elections.

To be fair to Theresa, pictured, I suppose she might have been thinking of our civil wars and the 1688 Bill of Rights. After all, the Stuarts were rather keen on ruling without parliaments, levying unauthorised duties, arbitrarily changing or suspending the law and bunging people in jail at their personal displeasure.

Or perhaps she was subtly acknowledging that it was British respect for the rule of law, even when it is inconvenient and gets in the way of whatever the government arbitrarily feels like doing, that made us a beacon of freedom and human liberty (even if it burnt rather unsteadily).

Or maybe she has spotted the fact that people from far more autocratic countries around the world want to do business in Britain because they know that the courts here will make sure that a contract is honoured, because they know that the courts are entirely independent of government, and because they know government cannot seize assets, bend legal judgments to its will or use judicial proceedings to mount political vendettas. Respect for the rule of law within these isles made Victorian prosperity possible and continues to bring foreign investment to the UK.

She may also have worked out that just about the only reason anyone listens to our preaching on human-rights abuses in Russia, Colombia or China is because Britain’s lawyers drafted the European Convention of Human Rights after the war, Britain is an adherent of the Court, and we are fastidious about the rule of law within our shores. Truth is, we’ve come to a pretty pass when we feel we have to applaud the Home Secretary for a statement of the extremely bleeding obvious.

The Big Society reaches No 10

People used to talk of Tony Blair’s “big tent” approach to politics. Cameron’s approach is more “big table”, as he has had a 4ft extension built to the hideous cabinet table in Downing Street. (This may be the only extension that gets built under the preposterous Nick Boles and Eric Pickles plan to float the economy off the rocks on a tide of home extensions, known as “conserve-a-Tory economics”.) This is because Cameron already has the legal maximum of 22 cabinet ministers plus 10 extra ministerial attendees and a tribe of friends and relations vying for a fingertip on the table.

But he’s also not only appointed another Etonian, Jo Johnson, to the keep-it-in-the-family Cabinet Office (where Francis Maude holds the same job as his father once did), but created a new “parliamentary policy advisory board” staffed by a suite of Tory MPs. Sounds innocent enough? After all, Jo Johnson is a decent enough cove, who might easily fit into the Labour Party. But not really. The law is clear; only 95 ministers, whether paid or unpaid, can sit and vote in the Commons and these six new appointees are ministers in all but name. When you add on the PPS contingent of 46 you reach a total payroll of 147. Edmund Burke complained in the 1700s that only 140 government placemen/ministers could corrupt parliament. He’d have a field day with Cameron’s arrogance.

Who will take over in Brussels

There is much talk in Brussels of who will be the new Commission President next year, as for the first time all the main parties are selecting candidates for the post in the expectation that the new Parliament will, as is their right under the Treaty of Lisbon, elect the choice of the largest party. There is a problem. The government of each country nominates its own commissioner, so if Angela Merkel is still German Chancellor, she may be forced to appoint a rival, the Socialist Martin Schulz, as German Commissioner, if he is the Socialist candidate for President. And if Peter Mandelson was the winning Socialist candidate, Cameron would have to appoint him.

Van Rompuy’s revenge

During the early rows about the EU budget, David Cameron told Herman Von Rompuy: “Look, you’ve got to realise that if you went out on the streets of London or Oxford and asked the first 100 people what they thought about the EU budget, you wouldn’t find 15 who thought the EU should have more money.” He had a point, but Von Rompuy is reputed to have the memory of an elephant.

At another EU summit six months later, Cameron was touting the traditional British line in favour of Turkey’s membership of the Union and complaining that Sarkozy and Merkel should go out and sell the idea to their respective countrymen rather than just sit and moan. Von Rompuy promptly pointed out: “Look, David, you’ve got to realise that if you went out on the streets of Paris or Berlin and asked the first 100 people what they thought about Turkey, you wouldn’t find 15 who thought it should be a member of the EU.” I gather there is no word in English for touché.

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