Political intimidation by PC PCs

 

The text of my email to the Police and crime commissioner for Humberside police. If anyone else wants to contract the PCC about this issue, contact details are here: https://www.humberside-pcc.gov.uk/Contact/Contact-Us.aspx


Mr Keith Hunter
Police and crime commissioner for Humberside police

 

Dear Mr Hunter,

Below is reproduced the text of a twitter thread posted on 26 March 2019 by a user known as @HarryTheOwl

I do not know the real identity of this individual, I assume he will be in touch with you himself. However I wish to express my own deep concern that a police force anywhere in the UK should act in the way he describes.

By his account, Humberside police are telephoning members of the public to take issue with their political views, expressed in an entirely legal manner. I am sure I am not the only person to find this inappropriate and deeply sinister. This is not the way the police force of a free country behaves.

The police should be impartial between all political viewpoints, unless the law is being broken. It should go without saying that this includes opinions about what should be legal or illegal or how the law may be changed.

For police to act in this way is an abuse of power to stifle debate and intimidate one side of a political argument. For the police to be prepared to act in this way on the basis of a complaint that someone has been upset or offended by someone else’s legally expressed views can only encourage a culture of competitive offence.

That is aside from the question of how the police could be more productively using their time.

I would urge you to investigate this matter and ensure appropriate guidance is issued to all police officers on the limits of legitimate police interference in debates between citizens, whether on social media or elsewhere.

yours

Gareth Williams
<Address Redacted>



 

I am stunned, shocked, upset, aghast and fuming.Just had Inspector Wilson from @Humberbeat call me re my complaint.

Me: Did I commit a crime?
Him: No. But you have upset a lot of people in the trans community.
Me: I do not believe Trans women are women. How do I state that without it causing upset?
Him: Why would you tweet that? Why do you feel the need?

Me: Because I am taking part in a national conversation.
Him: But why do you feel the need to do that?
Me: Because I am a citizen and believe political engagement is necessary. Why are you asking me this?
Him: Because I don’t see why you feel the need to say this.

Me: I can’t believe you, a police inspector, are questioning my involvement in politics. What right have you to do that?
Him: You do have the right. I’m just asking why you feel the need to engage in hate.
Me: Hate? Where’s the fucking hate?
Him: Maybe it’s the wrong wording.

Me: you are a fucking Inspector. You do not get to tell me that expressing a legally held view is hate. And you don’t get to pressure me to stop debating politically.
Him: If you swear, I will end this conversation.

Me. Ok. But I’m angry that you are ringing me and asking me why I’d want to be involved in politics.
Him: You have every right to be involved in politics. But why would you tweet your views when it upsets the trans community?

Me: let me get this straight. I said I do not believe trans women are women, and you ask me why I feel the need to tweet that. Right?
Him: Right. Exactly.
Me: I am ending this conversation now.
*Hangs up*

I am devastated.


 

No Deal Is Better Than A Bad Deal

“No deal is better than a bad deal” was one of Theresa May’s catch phrases. Like “strong and stable government” and “Brexit means Brexit”. And like those earlier catch phrases, it seems to have come to the end of a rather short lifespan.

Yesterday (21 November 2018) the PM told parliament that the alternative to accepting her withdrawal agreement is “no Brexit at all”.

How she thinks that will come about she has not made clear. What is clear is that by accepting the withdrawal agreement she put to her cabinet last week, she has abandoned NDBTBD. Because a worse deal than that is hard to imagine.

Theresa May is no dullard. She is taking this deal to parliament because she thinks she can win. This is how she will do it.

Some Tory Brexiteers are holding off on writing letters to trigger a vote of no confidence in Theresa May as leader until she loses the parliamentary “meaningful vote” on her deal. Some (e.g. Dominic Rabb, James Cleverly) are swayed by personal loyalty to the PM. They are arguing that a change of leader would not change the parliamentary arithmetic, and it is the policy, not the PM that must change. Others are calculating that a vote of no confidence is more likely to be won after the deal has gone down in flames.

Brexiteers are heartened by the fact that it requires primary legislation to delay or cancel the 29 March leaving date under Article 50, and there does not appear to be a parliamentary majority for either of these options. In the absence of primary legislation, or a deal, no deal is unavoidable.

Most are taking the defeat of the deal as given. But that is a high risk strategy. If you add up everyone who has said they will vote against it, it should lose by a good margin. But while TM may not be a towering intellect, she is no dullard. She is taking this deal to parliament because she thinks she can win. This is how she will do it.

TMs statements in the commons yesterday have thrown ambiguity over the question of what happens in the event the deal is rejected. This opens the way for the Conservative whips to assure Leavers in private that the result will be no Brexit, while telling Remainers it will be a cliff-edge No Deal.

The PM will come away from this weekends negotiations in Brussels with baubles and trinkets to hang on the Future Relationship Document, designed to make it more palatable to everyone. But that document is not legally binding. It is literally not worth the paper it is printed on.

At the last minute, she will pull something out of a hat to suggest the UK will in fact be free to leave the backstop of its own accord. That will be painted as a major concession from Brussels, and will be designed to sway all but the most recalcitrant members of the ERG. But the hurdles to doing so will nevertheless ensure that it is very unlikely to happen. Tory leaders have form in whipping their party to support europhile measures against their better judgement, cf. John Major and Maastricht.

Finally, if the parliamentary arithmetic still looks doubtful, a deal will be done to get sufficient Labour votes to win the meaningful vote, perhaps by announcing a free vote.

May’s deal will be passed and then it will be too late. The UK will be stuck in a customs union with the EU for ever, but one in which we have no say over the rules. We will not be Norway, nor Canada, but Turkey. All trussed up in time for Christmas.

The message to conservative Brexiteers must be this: if you want No Deal in preference to May’s Deal you need a Prime Minister with the resolve to go down that route. If you want a SuperCanada free trade deal you need a leader with the guts to repudiate the backstop. Theresa May is not that leader.

This is not about loyalty. It is not about her determination (some would say stubbornness), or pluckiness in the face of adversity. It is about her resolve to deliver the Brexit that 17.4m people voted for, and that she herself promised in the Conservative election manifesto in 2017, in her Lancaster House and Florence speeches, and many times since. Theresa May either can’t or won’t now deliver that Brexit. She has to go, and it has to be now.

Backstop Blues

My last Brexit post on 8 July covering PM Theresa May’s Chequers proposal has rather been overtaken by events.

At the time of writing cabinet brexiteers appeared be supporting the proposal, but within 24 hours Boris Johnson and David Davis had resigned from the Government, doubting that it would deliver Brexit, and citing concerns that such a starting point was bound to lead to further concessions.

As I pointed out, the proposal as originally set out would not have involved staying in either the EU Single Market nor a Customs Union, and as such did not deserve to be called BRINO. However since July the proposal seems to have morphed into something even worse than that, putting the UK into a kind of zombie state, forever stuck in a twilight zone between membership and freedom, subject to EU rules but having no say in their making, paying into the EU budget and unable to make independent trade deals. And unable to leave without the EUs permission. Boris Johnson has recently called this the biggest failure of statecraft since Suez.

The reason for this is only partly due to the deficiencies of the original proposal, with its Heath Robinson mechanism for the UK to collect EU tariffs and then maybe refund them at a later date. The main reason the PMs position has degenerated so quickly into such a morass of contradictions is because of the so-called Irish Backstop.


It was a shrewd move by the EU to tie the UK in knots over the Irish border. What was one of the EUs biggest problems (how to collect its tariffs with no hard border) was magically transformed into our biggest problem (how to stop them putting up a hard border to collect their tarrifs).


Lawyers for Britain has a lengthy analysis of the legal implications of the backstop here. I will not go over that ground again. I want to take a step back and ask how the UK got into the position of accepting the idea of the Backstop, and what it can do get out of it.

The Backstop originated in December 2017 as part of the Phase 1 Agreement, which says:

“The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls.”

That commitment is said to arise under the 1998 Belfast agreement (commonly known as the Good Friday agreement). But you will peruse that document in vain trying to find it.  (The closest thing is the British Government’s commitment to “as early a return as possible to normal security arrangements” including “the removal of security installations” throughout NI. That would cover structures such as army watchtowers. It says nothing about customs posts or passport control at the border).

But a soft border has indeed come to pass, and everyone seems to agree it should be maintained, so let’s leave aside whether it is part of the 1998 agreement or not.

The crux is in para 49-51 of the Phase 1 agreement in which the UK agrees that “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union” which “support … the protection of the 1998 agreement”.

Theresa May signed up to this in order to get the EU to move on to talks about a trade deal, apparently not noticing the trap that had been set: The UK is made responsible not just for not putting up its own hard border, but for “avoiding” one on the other side as well. The UK has accepted responsibility for the Irish side of the border.

And why would the Irish put up a hard border? From whence comes this mysterious force compelling a border that no one wants? No one wants to say. But the answer is clear. EU law requires member states to collect tariffs and check goods for compliance with EU standards at external borders. EU law will require Ireland to put up a hard border if post-Brexit standards are not aligned. (The UK will be under no obligation to put up a border. As an independent state we will be able to police – or not police – our borders however we like).

Except this is bluff. The EU knows it can’t force Ireland to put up a border. What if it tried and Ireland refused? Would it fine Ireland? Expel them from the EU? Or maybe Ireland would decide to leave? Indeed the EU has assured Ireland that there will be no hard border even if the UK leaves with no deal on 29 March 2019. But TM has unaccountably allowed her entire Brexit strategy to be hamstrung by this non-issue. Perhaps she feels that having agreed the Backstop last year she can’t resile from it?

It was a shrewd move by the EU to tie the UK in knots over the Irish border. What was one of the EUs biggest problems (how to collect its tariffs with no hard border) was magically transformed into our biggest problem (how to stop them putting up a hard border to collect their tarrifs). Because our politicians were stupid enough to agree that it was our problem. And now that it is our problem of course no solution will ever be good enough. By rejecting every technological solution we propose to their problem the EU can keep us in thrall forever.

But legally, the Backstop agreed in 2017 is not binding. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

The UK just needs to say that since all three parties have said there will be no hard border in any circumstances there is no need for a backstop and it is off the table forthwith. Sorry chaps. And forget that Chequers nonsense, its Canada+++ or no deal.

Now, that border that is suddenly your problem again, would you like it with tariffs or without?

This is easily doable. But it is now clear TM does not have the brains or the backbone to do it. A new PM will be needed, as soon as possible, please.

Gender Recognition Act Consultation

Here are my responses to the Government’s consultation on the GRA.

If you have not responded yet you have until 11pm tonight (19 October 2018) 12.00 noon Monday 22 October. (Deadline extended due to volume of responses).

I did not answer every question. I will post my final comments first, then my answers to the other questions.

Question 22: Do you have any further comments about the Gender Recognition Act 2004?

YES

I am afraid the opening paragraph above indicates the Government has already reached a conclusion on the need to reform the GRA and is not sufficiently open minded to listen to views from all sections of the general public. I hope this is not the case.

I also fear the Government has been taken in by a ‘bait and switch’ operation by certain trans activists. The Government appears not to appreciate the difference between ‘transsexuals’ as traditionally understood and a larger and much more vocal lobby of ‘transgender’ and ‘non-binary’ activists. I hope the Government will take into account the explanation provided by these transsexual women:

https://transsexualwomen1.blogspot.com/2018/10/transsexual-women-opposing-self-id-why.html

Quote:

Transsexual person

A medically diagnosed condition from childhood.

It involves acute stress from knowing that psychologically

that person is of opposite sex to the physiology of their body.

A transsexual person knows that you cannot change biological sex but extensive psychotherapy and medical assistance alter their body to match with the mind and live in harmony.

A large majority have had surgical alteration.

Transgender

A desire to adopt the lifestyle of the opposite sex, full time or part time, often expressing this via clothing and make up.

The desire to have surgery or other medical treatments is much less common (some suggest as low as 10% of cases only).

Few wish to see doctors or be psychiatrically evaluated. Some transition back and forth.

END QUOTE

These transsexual women continue:

QUOTE:

“Government suggest removing all medical gatekeeping and the crafted bonds of trust that establish medical necessity to change our legal status. We believe these safeguards are vital as a show of respect from us to society when seeking access into protected spaces such as toilets. Nobody should just demand this by right.”

“Transgender individuals deserve rights. However, women already have reasonable concerns about ceding their own rights to transsexuals via the GRA. Now transsexuals with rights gained through years of medical assessment are asked to hand them on to people who have done none of that. Diminishing further still the rights of women.”

“We worry that many of the 500,000 transgender accessing legal status would still be physically intact with male bodies or even capable of rape. Medically transitioned transsexual women would be as much at risk from them as would women.”

END QUOTE

The Government might also note this article in the Spectator:

https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2018/10/not-all-transsexuals-think-trans-women-are-women/

I think it is clear that a lot of the pressure to reform the GRA has come from ‘transgender’ individuals who would not be able to meet the requirements of a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Many such individuals have fully functioning male organs and wish to have sex with women, yet want to identify as women and access female-only spaces. Many of them may meet the definition of autogynephilia.

This does not accord with most peoples understanding of a ‘transsexual’ person.  To allow such people to have a GRC would be contrary to the original purposes of the GRA and would conflict with the dignity and safety of women in female-only spaces.

Question 3: Do you think there should be a requirement in the future for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria?

YES

Removing the requirement for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria would make GRCs available to (a) male sex offenders who are simply abusing the system to get access to women’s spaces and to women and (b) natal males who have no intention of undergoing any physical transition, who wish to retain their male organs and are female-attracted. Such people may identify as women (which is impossible to confirm or refute), and may or my not present as women, but they do not accord with most peoples understanding of a ‘transsexual’ person. Indeed they may prefer to refer to themselves as ‘transgender’. Many such people have been evident in the debate on this consultation and it is clear that many would apply for a GRC. To allow such people to have a GRC would be contrary to the original purposes of the GRA and would conflict with the dignity and safety of women in female-only spaces.

Question 4: Do you also think there should be a requirement for a report detailing treatment received?

YES

See answer to Q3

Question 5: (A) Do you agree that an applicant should have to provide evidence that they have lived in their acquired gender for a period of time before applying?

YES

See answer to Q3.

Also note that some trans women oppose removing this requirement on the grounds that it would undermine the seriousness of the process and devalue the experience they have gone through in transitioning.

Question 6: (A) Do you think this requirement should be retained, regardless of what other changes are made to the gender recognition system?

YES

See answer to Q3.

I believe that public respect for this process requires requires a genuine commitment to be made and evidenced.

(B) If you answered yes to (A), do you think that the statutory declaration should state that the applicant intends to ‘live permanently in the acquired gender until death’?

YES

Question 7: The Government is keen to understand more about the spousal consent provisions for married persons in the Gender Recognition Act. Do you agree with the current provisions?

YES

Please explain the reasons for your answer. If you think the provisions should change, how do you think they should be altered?

People get married on the understanding that their spouse is a particular sex. For this to change obviously affects the relationship. This may also provide an additional safeguard for the person transitioning.

Question 8: (A) Do you think the fee should be removed from the process of applying for legal gender recognition?

NO

(B) If you answered no to (A), do you think the fee should be reduced?

NO

Question 9: Do you think the privacy and disclosure of information provisions in section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act are adequate?

NA

Question 10: If you are someone who either has, or would want to undergo legal gender transition, and you have one or more of the protected characteristics, which protected characteristics apply to you? You may tick more than one box.

Please give us more information about how your protected characteristic has affected your views on the GRC application process.

NA

Question 12: Do you think that the participation of trans people in sport, as governed by the Equality Act 2010, will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

YES

That would depend how it is changed. If the current requirements are relaxed this could result in more men who have not and do not intend to go through any physical transition obtaining GRCs and expecting to compete in women’s sports.

The right of sports bodies to hold single-sex competitions, to base these on biological sex rather than legal or self-identified gender, and to make their own provisions for determining the sex of trans or intersex individuals must be retained.

It should be recognised that changing legal gender does not change biological sex and that in cases where biological sex is relevant it may be taken into account.

Question 13: (A) Do you think that the operation of the single-sex and separate-sex service exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

If the current requirements are relaxed this could result in large numbers of men who have not and do not intend to go through any physical transition obtaining GRCs and expecting to obtain access to women’s services and women’s spaces. Conflicts over provision of women’s service could become much more frequent and divisive.

Single-sex spaces are important to protect women’s safety and dignity. The right to provide single-sex services and single-sex spaces must be retained and if necessary strengthened.

Question 14: Do you think that the operation of the occupational requirement exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

If the current requirements are relaxed this could result in large numbers of people who have not and do not intend to go through any physical transition obtaining GRCs and seeking employment in traditionally single-sex occupations. Disputes over such employments could become much more frequent and divisive.

Question 15: Do you think that the operation of the communal accommodation exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

If the current requirements are relaxed and this results in people who have not and do not intend to go through any physical transition obtaining GRCs then disputes over single-sex accommodation could become much more frequent and divisive.

Question 16: Do you think that the operation of the armed forces exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

NA

Question 17: Do you think that the operation of the marriage exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act?

NA

Q18, Q19, NA

Question 20: Do you think that there need to be changes to the Gender Recognition Act to accommodate individuals who identify as non-binary?

People are free to ‘identify’ however they like. But there is no need for gender identities other than male and female (corresponding to biological sex) to have recognition in law. Dozens (at least) of gender identities are now used. What would be the legal consequence of a ‘genderqueer’ gender identity? The law should stay out of this.

Question 21: (A) Do you have a variation in your sex characteristics?

NO

As outlined in question 3, the Government wants to understand whether there should be any requirement in the future for a report detailing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and any requirement for a report detailing treatment received.

(B) Would removing these requirements be beneficial to you?

NA

(C) What other changes do you think are necessary to the GRA in order to benefit intersex people?

Please see answer to Q3.

Notwithstanding this I would agree with a separate process to amend a birth certificate where medical evidence is provided that sex was wrongly recorded at birth due to an intersex condition. I am not clear that this would need a GRC or a process of transitioning. This seems to me to a different issue from trans identity.

 

How soft is the Chequers Brexit deal?

There has been a lot of heated rhetoric over the weekend about the Chequers Brexit deal. The daily telegraph has it as “the weekend the Brexit dream died“. Jacob Rees-Mogg intends to vote against it. There has been much tweeting about betrayal and treason.

Let’s recap: Two years after the Brexit referendum and 15 months after triggering article 50, and just nine months before we leave, the UK Government has finally decided what is it going to ask for by way or a trade deal from the EU.

The staggering incompetence that has allowed the can to be kicked down the road for so long does not inspire much confidence in the new proposals (because that is all they are). But what kind of a deal is it? Let’s ignore the commentators for now and and look at the Chequers statement in black-and-white. Much is still unclear. There will be a white paper later this week. Then there will be negotiations with the EU. But let’s just take a careful look at the starting position before we all go off on one.

This is not BRINO (Brexit in name only). It does not involve staying in the Customs Union or the Single Market. It is essentially a roll-your-own version of EFTA, with freedom of movement, and trade in services, excluded. The European free Trade Area, A.k.a a “Norway-style deal” means being in the Single Market but not the Customs Union.

Now, EFTA was never my cup of tea, but it was the preferred option of a number of perfectly respectable long time Eurosceptics (e.g. Christopher Booker, Daniel Hannan MEP). An EFTA-type arrangement means being a rule-taker, but only for a fraction of the rules that apply to a full EU member. Theresa May has rejected EFTA because it includes a commitment to freedom of movement. And taking account of the fact that the UK has an economy over twice the size of the EFTA countries combined, it makes perfect sense to seek a bespoke EFTA-style agreement.

A customs union is defined essentially as applying a common external tariff. Under these proposals the UK would be able to apply its own tariffs (possibly zero-rated) to goods that were not intended for ongoing export to the EU. For EU-destined goods we would charge the EU tariff, meaning that no further checks would be required at UK-EU borders (including the tunnel, ferries and the Irish border). Presumably paperwork would be issued, and this would be spot-checked in transit (as paperwork is checked anyway for compliance with all kinds of regulations), but with no new infrastructure needed.

“The UK and the EU would maintain a common rulebook for all goods including agri-food, with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border.”

The bolded words are my emphasis, because I have seen only one commentator address their meaning. I think this is crucial, but the plain meaning is that it should apply only to goods intended for export to the EU. We have already seen there will be two kinds of goods coming into the UK: those intended for export to the EU and those not, and these will need to distinguished and treated differently. Presumably those not intended for the EU do not need to meet the standards of the common rule-book, if the UK has agreed a different standard with the originating country. Presumably then, UK-produced goods not intended for export to the EU do not need to meet them either, where the UK has adopted a different internal standard. The logic seems to be that as our internal rules diverge from those of the EU we will need to put measures in place to ensure that only EU-compliant goods are able to be sent to the EU, and the cost of doing so will be borne by the UK. Some kind of EU kite-mark with associated paperwork would seem to be the obvious idea. The details will vary depending on the type of product.

At least that is what those words should mean, and that is what we need to watch out for in the white paper and the ongoing negotiations. If the “common rule book” were to apply to all UK-produced goods indefinitely that would be unacceptable. But if it applies only to goods on which we have not chosen to diverge, or when we have diverged, only on those produced for export to the EU, I’m entirely relaxed about that. When British manufacturers produce goods for the US market they must meet US standards, and similarly for the EU market. And if the ECJ ultimately has the final say in what the EU rules mean that is also fine. Who else? Just as UK courts will have the final say in what UK standards mean. It is only if the ECJ continues to have a say over the UKs internal affairs there will be a problem.

The danger here of course is that the Chequers proposal will be further weakened during negotiations until it turns into BRINO. But as of now, that is not what it is.

Another part of the Chequers statement that seems to have been missed by some people is the renewed emphasis on planning for “no deal”. My guess is that this is one reason why the cabinet Brexiteers have stuck around. The Chequers proposal may not be seen in the longer term as a defeat for Brexit, but rather the last chance for a close alignment with the EU. If the EU rejects it there is nowhere else to go but WTO rules (a.k.a. “no deal”). The job of Brexit supporters in the Conservative party now is to make sure that the Chequers proposals are not watered down any further, and if the Government is pushed too far then no deal (and no money) is the order of the day. The UK has not played its cards well so far. But we still have them in our hand.

 

The Case for Time Limited Zero Tariffs

Two years after the Brexit referendum, and just nine months before the UK is due to formally leave the EU, the Government has still not decided on the tariff regime we intend to run as an independent nation.

Within the EU we have been required to collect the Common External tariff and hand over the proceeds to the European Commission. When we leave we will decide for ourselves what tariffs to charge, or not charge as the case may be.

Arguments have been made for replicating the EUs tariff regime, and for abolishing all tariffs in favour of global free trade.

Tim Martin, the heroically pro-Brexit proprietor of the Wetherspoons pub chain, makes a powerful case in the Sun today to scrap all tariffs on Brexit day, March 29, 2019. As Martin says, free trade never made anyone poorer.

Tim-Martin-Wetherspoons-beer-mats

The one argument I can see against this is that if we unilaterally abolish tariffs, while our economy will benefit from cheaper imports, what incentive will other counties have to reduce their tariffs on our goods? We want to negotiate bilateral free trade deals, and if we already allow unrestricted access to our own markets, other countries (assuming they don’t recognise the benefits of cheaper imports to their own economies, or under political pressure from their own producers) may choose to keep their own trade barriers.

To counter that eventuality, I propose that the UK should announce a zero tariff regime for a fixed period of time, say two or three years. During that time we will retain the right to take measures against dumping, but otherwise everyone in the world will have free access to our markets. The benefits to ourselves and to other countries will be immediate, and will be particularly valuable to poorer counties who are now hit hard by the EUs tariffs on food products.

During that time we will negotiate free trade deals with as many countries as possible, making it clear their is no guarantee of continuing free trade if we do not get a deal.

I predict that countries that are already reaping the benefits of our open markets will be very reluctant to return to a tariff regime, and will be willing to open up their own markets in return.

The Sovereignty of Parliament

The bombing of Syria at the weekend has raised the issue of the “Sovereignty of Parliament”. According to Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Clarke and many others, Theresa May should have consulted Parliament before joining the US and France in slapping Bashar al-Assad over the wrist for gassing his own people in Syria’s interminable and brutal civil war.

Some have professed to see a contradiction between the Brexit goal of restoring Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Prime Minister’s willingness to commit the UK military without parliamentary approval.

I have my doubts about the efficacy of a strategy of launching an air strike every time we are confronted with horrific scenes on the television. But that is not the subject of this post. It seems to me the important principle of the Sovereignty of Parliament is being misunderstood.

In the UK constitution, Parliament is the Legislature not the Executive. Parliamentary Sovereignty means that laws made in the UK Parliament may not be overruled by foreign courts, or by foreign parliaments. That is the principle that was breached by our membership of the EU, and that will be restored by Brexit.

It does not mean that the PM must consult Parliament before making every executive decision. There are many good reasons why that would not work, and in the case of military action, the PM is quite correct to say that the need for prompt action, and the need to take into account highly sensitive intelligence sources makes that impractical. (Parliamentary debates are of course open to the public and reported in Hansard).

There is no legal or constitutional requirement for a PM to seek the approval of Parliament before taking military action. There has been a recent convention of seeking such consent. In 2013 Tony Bliar persuaded Parliament to rubber-stamp the invasion of Iraq. In 2013 David Cameron failed to get approval for military action in Syria, and as a result abandoned that course of action.

The history of this convention is not good. Parliament is hostage to whatever version of the intelligence the Government chooses to make available. This is not the proper role of Parliament, and it certainly isn’t Parliamentary Sovereignty.