Can the end justify the means?

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Readers of Rye News may be aware of the controversy surrounding the government’s Internal Market Bill which gives the government powers to breach parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Amongst other things, the bill gives the government the power to go back on the Northern Ireland Protocol within the EU Withdrawal Agreement that it signed just nine months ago.

However, your readers may not be aware of the view taken by our own Member of Parliament. In a recent statement (14/9/2020) Sally-Ann Hart says, “I absolutely agree that upholding the rule of law is a fundamental principle. Adhering to obligations under a treaty is part of the rule of law”. Yet within the same statement she also says, “My overriding principle to the Brexit debate is simple – we must get Brexit done . . . The UK Internal Market Bill will help us in this endeavour.”

If members of parliament condone illegality in this way, are they setting an example that could undermine respect for the law more generally and at a time when the electorate is being asked to follow new legal requirements to limit the spread of Covid-19?

Regardless of where one stands on leaving the EU, the government’s preparedness to break international law has been criticised by highly respected lawyers and five former prime ministers. The government’s top lawyer, Sir Jonathan Jones, permanent secretary to the Government Legal Department, resigned because of his disquiet at what the government was preparing to do.

Respecting the rule of law

Even former leader of the Conservative party Michael Howard, a supporter of Brexit, has spoken of the “damage done” to Britain’s reputation for “probity and respect for the rule of law”.

Former Prime Minister John Major recently said, “For generations, Britain’s word — solemnly given — has been accepted by friend and foe. Our signature on any treaty or agreement has been sacrosanct. … If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained.”

It seems likely that in order to get Brexit done our Member of Parliament is prepared to endorse the breaking of international law. Is this a bridge that should not be crossed? Can the end justify the means?

Image Credits: Tumisu / Pixabay


  1. Personally I would withdraw from the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration completely. They are both traps to control us and deny us sovereignty.

  2. Can the end justify the means? Well I guess it depends on ones view of the ‘end’ Clearly Hugh above feels so as the withdrawal agreement is International Law.

    As regards Sally-Anne’s contribution to the debate, it’s kind of what I’d expect based on past performance. I think she is trying though …

  3. Those who loudly proclaim the sanctity of ‘International Law’ are silent on the obvious breaches of the WA by the EU. From Barnier’s statement at the start “If I do my job well they will find it impossible to leave.” to the extraordinary gloating of the TV documentary where they celebrated the defeat of May and Robbins it has been clear that the EU had zero intention of negotiating ion good faith. The EU have, since that start, been ion breach of both the spirit and “Law” of the WA.

    Sadly, it is not surprising that anti democrats prefer to look at imagined UK fault rather than the plain transgressions of the EU. They tried hard last year to impose a parliamentary dictatorship in their efforts to thwart democracy. The non stop attacks on Boris are just a continuation of this last ditch attempt to prevent BREXIT.

    It will not stop until we leave completely and reassert our right as a sovereign nation to control our own destiny. That includes the absolute right of parliament to pass or reject law. A right, that not so long ago the opponents of democracy loudly proclaimed to be sacred.

    Hypocrisy is ugly. The EU and its supporters are past masters. It is time to stop and bring these talks to an end.

  4. I wouldn’t want Michael Wood to have a stroke; his blood pressure is already high.
    Just to recap:- the U.K. in a dubious non-mandatory referendum, based on lies and misinformation, narrowly voted to reject 45 years of cooperation with our nearest neighbours.
    The exit negotiations were never going to be easy; we were leaving a close-knit club of 27 member states, so we were always in a weak position.
    Now the chickens are coming home to roost and are clearly disadvantageous to the U.K. as we Remainers warned in 2016.
    No point in crying now; Parliament has had umpteen chances to think again, but ignored what is now, belatedly, the majority opinion that brexit was, and will be, a disaster for this country.
    Finally, keeping repeating ‘sovereignty’ is pointless. All countries are sovereign.

  5. The UK has wanted all the advantages of EU membership without the obligations from the outset. The Tories are breaking the terms of a treaty they signed up to less than a year ago. Nonsense talk about “sovereignty” is just a straw man argument when you’re prepared to break the law that you yourself put in place. There is no excuse for the actions of this government and our local representative is, not surprisingly, talking out both sides of her mouth.

  6. 1) “Sovereignty” is a nice, emotionally-appealing concept, but what does it actually mean? Every country is “sovereign” and every country willingly concedes a bit of that “sovereignty” every time they sign a trade agreement. The trade agreement the UK recently signed with Japan loses far more “sovereignty” in respect of curbing state aid than *anything* the EU is proposing. I’ve never yet found anyone who can articulate what essential “sovereignty” the UK was lacking within the EU without resorting to proven lies told during the referendum campaign or proven lies manufactured in the early 90s by the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels Correspondent (a certain Boris Johnson).

    2) Some claim that the EU has also broken the Withdrawal Agreement. There is no evidence of this at all (remember – claims made in the Daily Express or the Daily Mail or on internet forums do not constitute reliable objective evidence). If the EU had broken the WA, why hasn’t the UK initiated legal action, issued a punitive fine and/or walked away from the talks? Bending rules is not by any stretch of the imagination equivalent to breaking an international treaty. Ironic that the so-called “Party of Law and Order” should be advocating the breaking of international treaties, especially given that there was nothing legally binding about the advisiory referendum.

    3) The bad feeling against the EU has been whipped up to create division – whipped up by newspapers to cover for the incompetence of British politicians (always easier to “blame the EU”), whipped up to create a totally non-existent “us and them” mentality, a backward-looking, WW2-referencing “pluckly little Britain stands alone” narrative. That might have been true in 1940, but it’s 2020 now and the world is totally different. In 2020, Britain looks as foolish as Trump’s America, led by a liar and haemhorraging trust. Johnson is an international laughing stock who is destroying repect for this country. He’s not even a committed Brexitter (remember how he dithered until the 11th hour before decididing whether to campaign for Remain or Leave? Search the internet for his previous journalism where he passionately espouses the view that leaving the UK would be akin to economic and social suicide for the UK). Johnson only decided to campaign for Leave because he thought that’s what would get him into Downing Street. He’s a mini-Trump: a liar and a narcissist who doesn’t care a jot about the country, his only consideration is what’s in it for him.

    4) To those who say “let’s walk away from the talks and trade on WTO terms”, I would just remind you that WTO Rules require effective, well-policed hard borders. If the UK reinstates hard borders in Northern Ireland, wilfully trashing the Good Friday Agreement, the IRA will resume their attacks in a heartbeat. Think about what that means. Car bombs in England. And for what? Blue passports and “sovereignty”…? Isn’t peace in Ireland and in Europe preferable?

    5) Wasn’t one of the central missions of Brexit to rid the UK of “rule by unelected bureaucrats”? And yet Dominic Cummings is making policy and enacting policy almost single-handed, blithely undermining parliamentary democracy as he does so. When has Cummings’ name ever been on a voting slip? Or is “rule by unelected bureaucrats” acceptable if the unelected bureaucrats are British?

  7. @ Michael Wood – can you provide a source or link for the quote you attribute to Michel Barnier. I have just searched for almost an hour and the only thing I can find even remotely similar is “If I do my job correctly, they will realise the extent of what they have done” – which obviously has a very different meaning to your quote.

  8. I am grateful that Chris McGrath is concerned for my health. In presenting the anti democrat case he, of course, ignores the government leaflet ” We will implement your decision” a phrase oft repeated by Cameron et al. He also ignores the use of the Civil Service in project fear and the cost of getting the Obamas over so he could intervene. Of course the ‘Non Mandatory’ idea only surfaced after Remain lost. It is odd, the extent to which supporters of the EU run down our country. Even odder that they live on planet EU where the world is wonderful and the horrors of youth unemployment ion EU states do not exist and where depopulation is a wonderful green thing.

    I have faith in my country. Above all I have faith in democracy and hope that others, who do not, will find solace in France or Spain, to name but two, provided they do not need to find one of the very scarce jobs.

  9. @AmyB The French current affairs weekly Le Point reported that Michel Barnier told EU leaders in 2016.

    “J’aurais réussi ma mission si, à la fin, le deal est tellement dur pour les Britanniques qu’ils préféront rester dans l’Union.” A rough translation” I would have succeeded in my mission if, in the end, the deal is so hard on the British that they would rather stay in the Union.”

    Reportedly most leaders shared his vie and Jean-Claude Juncker, said that Brexit must be a form of “punishment” for deserters.

  10. The comment under the picture says: We are leaving the EU – but how
    I would add: ‘but why’ and under the cloud of knowingly breaking international law.
    No doubt gov ‘will get it done’ as their mantra goes. I just hope the Leavers will think it was worth it in a few years of more austerity.

    Heidi Foster

  11. Well if most ‘leaders’ (presumably meaning European leaders?) share Michel Barnier’s view that Brexit must be a form of punishment for deserters (love the military terms that seep into politics): it will indeed be punishment. We’ll see how little britain is in 5 years times and whether Michael Wood can still be proud of his country.

  12. When “Little Singapore” was ejected from the Malay Federation Lee Kuan Yew shed bitter tears. Not long after the boot was on the other foot as Singapore out performed (and still does) the Federation.

    Fundamentally, Brexit was about restoring the people’s sovereignty – our right to elect our own representatives who make our laws and cannot bind us for longer than a parliament. Heath lied when he took us into the Common Market (Well documented in released government papers) and since then we and other members have been lied to as the elite morphed a Common Market into a Country. France, Holland and Ireland all voted against and were ignored. We are the only country whose referendum has not been ignored – hence the punishment. That is a matter for pride.

    I have no doubt that we will do very well once we have rediscovered ourselves. The Remain argument has always centred on the so called economic benefits – they do not seem obvious to most of the poorer members and the 15% (IMF Estimate) advantage that Germany has in using an undervalued currency is damaging all others. To my knowledge there are two successful political and economic unions in the world. Switzerland 85% ethnic German. The UK where despite success, a shared history for centuries and a common language – there are those who want to break it up. So, what chance a ‘Union’ bound by German economic advantage on one side and sipping from a shrinking handout regime on the other.

    We have a long proud history of laws that we consent to. It is at the heart of our democracy. Selling our birth right for a modern equivalent of a mess of potage makes no more sense than did Esau’s decision.

  13. For those wanting to take back control can I put in a plea that they turn their attention to our out of date electorial system next. In only one election since 1918 has a ruling party won a majority vote – the conservatives in 1931 with 60.7%. Since then we have been ruled by a party that polled a minority of the vote. Neither Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair, who both had large majorities in parliament, could mange this. The best they could do was 43.9% and 43.2% respectively. Is that right and fair?

    It is time for Britains to take back control and reform an electorial system that is not fit for the 21st century.

    • The problem is that alternative systems can be even more undemocratic. I lived in Germany in the 90’s and for much of the time the FDP (Vote share 8 to 9%) got into bed with either the CDU/CSU or SDP and effectively counted for more than the majority. It was also sad to witness the State and Local dispensing of patronage. The firm I worked for had a problem that was solved through horse trading and playing parties against each other. We had clout – a citizen got no where. Until someone can design something better I have to agree with Churchill (But applying it to FPTP) ” No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.… ‘


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