Tag: Good friday Agreement

Theresa May faces legal challenge regarding DUP ‘arrangement’

Image result for DUP Tory arrangement

Talks between the DUP and the Government “haven’t proceeded in a way that DUP would have expected”, sources have told Sky News.

Apparently, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is urging the Government to give “greater focus” to the negotiations and that the “party can’t be taken for granted”. It has been widely expected that the DUP will want more money for Northern Ireland as part of the deal.

A day before setting out her legislative measures in the Queen’s Speech, Theresa May has yet to secure a deal with the DUP to allow her Government programme to survive a Commons vote.

The talks have been ongoing since the Conservatives failed to win an outright parliamentary majority in a disastrous General Election on 8 June.

May says she is confident that the DUP will eventually back her, but a deal remains elusive.

The wider context of politics in Northern Ireland is adding to problems, and the government’s involvement in attempts to restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont is under criticism. Many of us have said that this is problematic because May cannot claim impartiality in negotiations, since she is relying on the DUP to prop up her government. There are also worrying implications for the Good Friday Agreement, and many of us have been concerned that a Conservative and DUP arrangement may be in breach of the agreement, and may compromise the important peace deal.

Almost on cue, the Guardian reports that Theresa May is facing a landmark legal challenge over her proposed deal with the Democratic Unionist party on the grounds that it breaches the Good Friday agreement. 

An experienced legal team, which has been involved in constitutional challenges, is planning to apply for a judicial review of the deal once it is announced. 

High court judges would be asked to examine whether the pact breaches the British government’s commitment to exercise “rigorous impartiality” in the Good Friday agreement. 

The case, which could be heard in the supreme court because of its constitutional significance, follows warnings by politicians from all sides that the deal risks undermining the peace process in Northern Ireland.

The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, said on Tuesday that the deal to support the Conservative’s minority government may not be sealed until after the Queen’s speech.

It is understood that the legal challenge has been in preparation for some time but that any action would be announced after the prime minister outlines the deal in the coming days. 

Lawyers are believed to have found a lead claimant to fight the case, similar to the role that the investment banker Gina Miller had when she won a supreme court ruling ordering ministers to introduce emergency legislation to authorise Britain’s departure from the EU in January.

It is understood that potential lead claimants have been warned to expect significant press attention – Miller has said the Brexit case made her the most hated woman in Britain – and that the claim will need to be crowdfunded. 

Lawyers are understood to be keen for the judicial review to be heard before the end of this year at the latest.

An announcement of a deal between the Conservatives and the DUP to form a minority government was expected last Wednesday but was delayed due to the Grenfell Tower fire, in which it was announced that at least 79 people died or are presumed dead. Many expect that number to rise.

Politicians from all sides have warned the prime minister that striking a deal with Arlene Foster’s party could put the fragile peace in Northern Ireland at risk.

Sir John Major said last week that a deal risked alienating armed republicans and loyalists, and cause resentment in other parts of the UK if the government made promises to spend large amounts of public money.

The Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, also accused May of not honouring the Good Friday agreement after meeting the prime minister last week.

The Guardian is also aware that a Northern Ireland law firm has considered a similar challenge. 

The legal challenge is likely to focus on subsection five of article 1 of the 1998 Good Friday agreement, which states that the UK and Irish governments “affirm that whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, the power of the sovereign government with jurisdiction there shall be exercised with rigorous impartiality on behalf of all the people in the diversity of their identities and traditions and shall be founded on the principles of full respect for, and equality of, civil, political, social and cultural rights, of freedom from discrimination for all citizens, and of parity of esteem and of just and equal treatment for the identity, ethos and aspirations of both communities.”

The phrase “rigorous impartiality” and what it implies is likely to be the crucial legal issue to be tested. 

In a commentary last week, Colin Harvey, professor of human rights law at Queen’s University, Belfast, wrote: “‘Rigorous impartiality’… is central to the Good Friday agreement and to the British-Irish agreement (an international treaty between the UK and Ireland). The concept flows from the complex right of self-determination on which the current British-Irish constitutional compromise is based.

“Any deal between the Conservative party and the DUP that infringed the above principles or strayed directly onto Good Friday agreement territory (such as, for example, ruling out a unity referendum) runs a real risk of being in breach of article 1 of the British-Irish agreement.”

 

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Sinn Fein’s MPs ‘will fly to London to take up their Westminster offices’ according to the Sun

The Sun announced this morning in an exclusive that the Irish Republican party will travel to the House of Commons to take up their seats – despite their century-long policy of abstention in the UK Parliament. 

Sinn Fein won seven seats in the Westminster general election, running on an abstentionist ticket that has always been the party’s policy. It’s unlikely that the Sun’s headline is correct. By abstaining from Westminster, Sinn Fein make a powerful statement – that they and the people who vote for them reject British rule and British interference.

However, there has been growing concern among the left nationalist parties in Northern Ireland about the implications of an alliance between the Conservatives and the right wing DUP.  That’s worth some discussion.


They go on to say: “Similarly, the Tory government must be obliged to acknowledge the DUP’s historical and current links with paramilitary terrorist gangs.”

“The DUP has consorted with the still active Ulster Defence Association terrorist gang since its creation in 1971. Notably, in 1975 the UDA bombed Biddy Milligan’s pub in London. Here in 2017, UDA terrorists are still killing UK citizens with guns supposedly supplied by the Ulster Resistance gang founded by the DUP.”

“There are other major civil society concerns with the DUP that ought to alarm all decent people. These include not least numerous instances of alleged corruption and discrimination: Brextit dark financing; RHI grants scandal; NAMA millions; Red Sky housing; and sectarian use of state funds funnelled to its supporters in the anti-Catholic Orange Order and often to UDA and UVF terrorist led “community groups” of various hues.”

The backing of seven Sinn Fein MPs would reduce the Tory majority to just four

The active presence of seven Sinn Fein MPs in parliament would reduce the Tory majority to just four.

Sinn Fein’s presence at Westminster will inevitably spark fears among the Conservatives that they are planning to break their boycott and join other opposition parties in opposing Theresa May’s Queen’s Speech. 

The Belfast Telegraph reports that a delegation of Sinn Fein MPs is traveling to London for a series of meetings with the Secretary of State James Brokenshire, other political parties and trade unions.

Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland leader, Michelle O’Neill, said: “There is wide spread concern that Theresa May in seeking a deal with the DUP to remain in office will make the job of re-establishing the Executive more difficult.

“The British Government must demonstrate that they will treat all parties equally and fully honour the agreements. To this end I have sought a meeting with Theresa May as a matter of urgency.

“The deal at Westminster cannot undermine the agreements or the talks to re-establish the executive.

“Regardless of talks between the DUP and Tories all roads must lead back to an Executive, which delivers for all.”

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader, has warned Sinn Fein that the prospect of direct rule should scare Irish Republicans because the DUP now “have greater influence on the UK Government.” 

She said: “If others decide that they are not coming back into the devolved administration here in Northern Ireland then those issues will have to be dealt with at Westminster.

“It is really for Sinn Fein to decide where they want those powers to lie.”

Jeremy Corbyn has already unveiled plans to present an alternative Queen’s Speech next week – including pledges to keep the winter fuel allowance, protecting the pensions triple lock and scrapping the bedroom tax, which he hopes will entice enough Tory MPs to deliver a government defeat.

The backing of seven Sinn Fein MPs would reduce the Tory majority to just four – which would bring the Government to the brink of collapse. That’s why there are such fears, I suspect. Whether or not they are justified is another matter. This does, however, indicate that the government is feeling rather vulnerable. Though I am not entirely sure of the Sun’s motive for publishing their article.

A defeat for May would topple her premiership and give Corbyn the chance to form a minority Labour government.

A Sinn Fein insider has refused to rule out taking the historic step of taking seats, if Corbyn offered a referendum on Irish unification. However, it is unlikely that the seven MPs will.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said a referendum on Irish unity was inevitable as rival parties reconvened in Stormont yesterday to restore power-sharing talks following the six-months deadlock.

He said: “One thing we can say for certainty, there is going to be a referendum on Irish unity.

“I can’t say when it’s going to be, but there is going to be such a referendum.”

The parties face a deadline of June 29 before direct rule is imposed on Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire – who flew into Belfast to chair talks yesterday – said he believed a deal to restore power-sharing before the end of the month was possible.

He insisted, remarkably, that the DUP-Tory arrangement in Westminster was an “entirely separate” issue.

But tensions are mounting because of the DUP-Tory alliance, which puts the Good Friday Agreement in jeopardy.

Interesting times.

 


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The DUP: history and controversy

Former DUP leader, Peter Robinson, (left) in paramilitary uniform, 1986.

The following story, first published in the Irish Times on 16 May, is of a massive donation to the DUP, which reads like a John le Carré novel – but voters need facts, not fiction.

What connects Brexit, the DUP, dark money and a Saudi prince? By Fintan O’Toole

If Northern Ireland were a normal democracy, the election campaign would be dominated by a single question: how did the Democratic Unionist Party end up advancing the cause of a united Ireland through its support for Brexit? More specifically: what role did dark money play in that extraordinary decision? This story has all the makings of a John le Carré thriller but democracy on this island needs facts, not fiction. 

To recap briefly: two days before the Brexit referendum last June, the Metro freesheet in London and other British cities came wrapped in a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. Bizarrely, it was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. At the time, the DUP refused to say what the ads cost or where the money came from. 

We’ve since learned that the Metro wraparound cost a staggering £282,000 (€330,000) – surely the biggest single campaign expense in the history of Irish politics. For context, the DUP had spent about £90,000 (€106,000) on its entire campaign for the previous month’s assembly elections. But this was not all: the DUP eventually admitted that this spending came from a much larger donation of £425,622 (€530,000) from a mysterious organisation, the Constitutional Research Council

Mystery

The mystery is not why someone seeking to influence the Brexit vote would want to do so through the DUP. Disgracefully, Northern Ireland is exempt from the UK’s requirements for the sources of large donations to be declared. The mystery, rather, is who were the ultimate sources of this money and why was it so important to keep their identities secret. 

The Constitutional Research Council is headed by a Scottish conservative activist of apparently modest means, Richard Cook. It has no legal status, membership list or public presence and there is no reason to believe that Cook himself had half a million euro to throw around. But the DUP has been remarkably incurious about where the money ultimately came from. Peter Geoghegan (sometimes of this parish) and Adam Ramsay of the excellent openDemocracy website did some digging and what they’ve come up with is, to put it mildly, intriguing. 

What they found is that Richard Cook has a history of involvement with a very senior and powerful member of the Saudi royal family, who also happens to have been a former director of the Saudi intelligence agency. In April 2013, Cook jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments with Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud. The prince, whose address is given as a royal palace in Jeddah, is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75 per cent of the shares. Cook had 5 per cent. The other 20 per cent of the shares belonged to a man called Peter Haestrup, a Danish national with an address in Wiltshire, whose own colourful history we must leave aside for reasons of space. 

No casual investor 

Prince Nawwaf, who died in 2015, was no casual investor. He had been Saudi minister for finance, government spokesman and diplomatic fixer before becoming head of intelligence. His son, Mohammed bin Nawwaf, has, moreover, been the Saudi ambassador to both the UK and Ireland since 2005. When Five Star was set up in 2013, Prince Nawwaf was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. It seems rather remarkable that he was going into business with a very minor and obscure Scottish conservative activist. But we have no idea what that business was. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved. 

It may be entirely co-incidental that the man who channelled £425,622 to the DUP had such extremely high level Saudi connections. We simply don’t know. We also don’t know whether the current Saudi ambassador had any knowledge of his father’s connection to Richard Cook. But here’s the thing: the DUP claims not to know either. And that is at best reckless and at worst illegal. 

Arlene Foster told the BBC in late February that she did not even know how much the mystery donor had given the party. Then the party, under pressure, revealed the amount, but insisted that ascribing the donation to Cook’s Constitutional Research Council was enough and people should stop asking questions. Then, in early March, Jeffrey Donaldson told openDemocracy that the DUP did not need to know the true source of the money. 

But this is simply untrue. The UK electoral commission is clear: “a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified”. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal. 

The DUP has harmed Northern Ireland and endangered the union it exists to protect. How much did the lure of dark money influence that crazy decision? Any self-respecting voter would want to know.

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So, who are the DUP? – Kitty S Jones

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is more closely ideologically aligned to the Conservatives than previous coalition partners the Lib Dems, who have ruled themselves out of propping up any minority government. But who are they?

The DUP is a right-wing unionist political party in Northern Ireland. It was founded by Ian Paisley in 1971, at the height of the Troubles, who led the party for the next 37 years. Now led by Arlene Foster, it is the party with the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly and is the fifth-largest party in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Following the 2017 general election, the party has agreed to support a Conservative minority government, following a hung parliament, on a case-by-case basis on matters of “mutual concern”. The DUP have historic links with the Loyalist terrorists.

As social conservatives, they are a party that arose in part to oppose the civil rights movement and nationalism in Northern Ireland. 

Conservatives and the DUP have ties that go back many years. When Enoch Powell was expelled from the Conservative party for his extreme racism and highly divisive politics, he moved to Northern Ireland. 

As a unionist, Powell accused the Heath government of undermining the Government at Stormont. He opposed the abolition of the devolved Parliament in 1972. Following his departure from the Conservatives, Powell was recruited by the Ulster Unionists to stand in the seat of South Down, winning it in the second election of 1974. He continued to serve as an MP in Northern Ireland during some of the worst years of the Troubles. Powell strongly opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which gave Dublin a formal say in the running of Northern Ireland for the first time. In a heated exchange in the House of Commons on 14 November 1985, the day before the agreement was signed, Powell accused Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of “treachery”. 

In 1997, Lady Thatcher said Powell was right to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement, as she spoke of her regret over the deal.

He believed the only way to stop the IRA was for Northern Ireland to be an integral part of the United Kingdom, governed in the same as its other constituent parts. 

His campaign manager was Jeffrey Donaldson. Donaldson said, “I worked alongside two of the greatest names in Unionism in the 20th century.

“Between 1982 and 1984 I worked as Enoch Powell’s constituency agent, successfully spearheading Mr. Powell’s election campaigns of 1983 and 1986.”

Donaldson is the longest serving of the DUP’s MPs.

Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.  Pacemaker Press Intl

Ian Paisley pictured with the Red Beret of the Ulster Resistance at a rally in Ballymena, attended by Peter Robinson and Alan Wright Ulster Clubs Chairman.

Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order” during the Troubles, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. 

It’s often a forgotten detail that the British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). 

This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.

Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.

Government files declassified in 2015 show that the government thought the DUP may have used the Ulster Resistance as “shock troops” during protests against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

The DUP is firmly opposed to the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland. Their leader, Arlene Foster, last year vowed to maintain the province’s ban on abortion, except where the life of the woman is at risk.

Official party policy does not provide an exception from their position on abortion even for victims of  rape. The closest they’ve come to concession on the issue was leader Arlene Foster agreeing to “carefully consider” a High Court ruling that said banning abortion for rape victims was against British and European human rights laws.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said gay relationships were “offensive and obnoxious” in 2005 and in 2007 said he was “pretty repulsed by gay and lesbianism”.

The party blocked gay marriage law despite it winning approval by Northern Ireland’s parliament in 2015. They used a legal tool to prevent same-sex unions passing it to law after it passed a knife-edge vote in the Assembly. 

Gay marriage divisions threatened to derail this year’s power-sharing talks in Stormont when the DUP refused to back down. 

The DUP’s former environment minister described climate change as a “con.” There are also creationists within the party.

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Ulster Resistance Flag ‘C’ Division, bearing the Red Hand of Ulster emblem

During the Troubles, the DUP opposed attempts to resolve the conflict that would involve sharing power with Irish nationalists/republicans, and rejected attempts to involve the Republic of Ireland in Northern Ireland affairs. It campaigned against the Sunningdale Agreement of 1974, the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. In the 1980s, the party moved to create a paramilitary movement, which culminated in the Ulster Resistance.

Back in March, an election was triggered in Northern Ireland. The DUP had slumped in public opinion polls after it emerged that they are linked to a major financial scandal. The Renewable Heat Incentive, known locally as the Cash For Ash scandal, was set up under DUP politician Arlene Foster, and appears to have been badly mismanaged, resulting in a loss of some £400 million to the Northern Irish taxpayer.  

After Foster refused to stand down, Sinn Fein walked away from the power-sharing agreement, thereby triggering the election. 

Foster said she was willing to support a public inquiry into a botched green energy scheme that will cost taxpayers up to £500m and has triggered the current political crisis.

But the Democratic Unionist party leader said she was not afraid of elections to a new Northern Ireland assembly, while acknowledging that any campaign would be rancorous and “brutal”.

Lord Hain said today that the Conservatives have not been neutral regarding Northern Ireland (NI) since Cameron’s government, and have been headed towards “backroom deals” with the DUP for some time. This has all served to undermine the Balance of Powers at Stormont, and risks jeopardising the peace process in NI. As it is, the Assembly, estabished in 1998 following the Good Friday Agreement, is in crisis and has been for months.

The proposed DUP alliance will not help that situation one bit, nor can the Conservatives claim any neutrality in any interventions, since they are so dependent on the DUP to prop them up, permitting them stay in office. But it is power for the sake of power, rather such an alliance serving the national interest.

Northern Ireland’s political settlement is currently teetering on the edge of collapse. If that is to be prevented, somehow the DUP and Sinn Fein need to reach an agreement, re-establishing the Balance of Powers and they probably need support, to be encouraged into doing so. If the British Government is in a formal arrangement with the DUP that will, to put it mildly, greatly complicate the process. How can the Northern Ireland Minister possibly appear to be neutral in any negotiations?  To risk peace in Northern Ireland for the sake clinging onto power is despicable.

 Article 1 (v) of the Good Friday Agreement commits the “sovereign government” to exercise its power with “rigorous impartiality.” 

As says: “Only by quibbling over the precise meaning of “sovereign government” can a deal between the DUP and the sovereign government in Westminster be understood as anything other than a breach of the Good Friday Agreement.  The spirit of the agreement is abundantly clear: Britain is meant to be impartial between the Northern Ireland parties. It is not acceptable to be Perfidious Albion just to let a broken Prime Minister stagger on for a few more months.  By even contemplating this deal Mrs May is playing with a blow-torch in a petrol station.”

 


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Watchdog that scrutinises constitutional reform is quietly abolished and Tory proposals are likely to lead to constitutional crisis.

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The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which was originally established for the duration of the 2010 parliament, has been very quietly scrapped following a meeting of party whips.

Originally, the cross-party committee was established to scrutinise the plans of the Coalition government, such as the House of Lords Reform and the Alternative Vote – many of which never made it onto the statute books.

The parliamentary committee’s main role was to scrutinise proposed major constitutional changes. This undemocratic development is especially worrying given the likelihood of significant constitutional changes in the forthcoming parliament, with the referendum on  membership of the European Union set to be held within the next two years.

There are further plans for devolution of powers to Scotland and Wales, as well as to cities, and it is expected that these will be delivered at the same time as the government repeals the Human  Rights Act, and draws up a bill of rights to replace it.

Considerable doubt exists among experts that the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog responsible for ensuring the Convention is upheld, will accept the Tories’ proposals. In fact the plans are highly unlikely to be accepted. As a result, it is quite widely believed Britain will disengage from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and undermine Europe’s’ civil liberties framework in the process.

Cameron has previously pledged to withdraw from the ECHR, indicating plainly that he is indifferent to the fact that such a withdrawal would very likely spark a complex constitutional crisis in the UK.

If the Human Rights Act is repealed in its entirety, the repeal will apply to the whole of the UK. The Scotland Act gives powers to the Scottish Parliament, provided that they comply with the ECHR (among other things). This would not change with repeal of the Human Rights Act alone.

However, human rights are also partially devolved (the Scottish Parliament, for example, has set up a Scottish Human Rights Commission), and so any unilateral repeal of the Human Rights Act by Westminster would violate the Sewell Convention, which outlines that the Westminster government will: “not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.” Nicola Sturgeon has stated clearly that the Scottish National Party oppose the repeal of the Human Rights Act.

And similar principles apply through the memoranda of understandings with each of the devolved legislatures in the UK.

In Northern Ireland, human rights are even further devolved than in Scotland, and the Human Rights Act (HRA) is explicitly mentioned in the Good Friday Act in 1998. To repeal the HRA would violate an international treaty as the Agreement was also an accord between two sovereign states – the UK and the Irish Republic.

Repealing the HRA unilaterally would put the UK in violation of the Good Friday Agreement, and its international treaty obligations to Ireland.  This would certainly damage our international reputation, as well as having consequences for the reciprocity on which the Treaty depends.

It’s quite possible that it would also be understood within Northern Ireland as a violation of both letter and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement,  signalling that the UK government were no longer committed to the Agreement.

The Good Friday Agreement was also subject to a referendum in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, both having to consent for the Agreement to be implemented.  The referendum enabled the Agreement to have widespread legitimacy, but importantly, because it took place in both parts of Ireland, it answered historic Republican claims to be using violence to secure the “right to self-determination” of the Irish people.

It was also necessary to changing the Irish Constitution. So a unilateral move away from UK commitments carries serious bad faith and democratic legitimacy implications, potentially with deeply problematic historical consequences.

The Conservatives also have plans to reintroduce the redefining of parliamentary constituency boundaries in a way that will be advantageous to the Conservative party. It is estimated that the planned changes will help the Tories to win up to 20 extra seats at a future election.

It was during the last term that the proposals were originally put forward. Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs were joined by those of smaller parties – including the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the DUP,  the Greens and Respect – to defeat the proposals, giving them majority in voting down the Tory plans for boundary changes.

The Tories are also committed to implementing a form of “English vote for English” laws – a move which will further undermine ties within the UK. But this pre-election pledge placed an emphasis upon English voting rights to undermine the nationalist appeal of UKIP south of the Border, whilst spotlighting the constitution to bolster the Scottish National Party in Scotland, again using nationalism tactically  to disadvantage the Labour Party.

At a time when the government is planning potentially turbulent constitutional changes in the forthcoming parliament, the move to abolish the watchdog – The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee – will serve to insulate the Tories from democratic accountability and scrutiny.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee had instigated an inquiry in 2013 regarding increasingly inconsistent standards in the quality of legislation, which resulted in several key recommedations, one of which was the development of a Code of Legislative Standards, and another was the creation of a Legislative Standards Committee.

The government response was little more than an extravagant linguistic exercise in avoiding accountability, transparency and scrutiny. Having waded through the wordy Etonian etiquette of paragraph after paragraph in the formal responses to each recommendation, the meaning of each may be translated easily enough into just one word: no.

For example: “A bill when it is published is the collectively agreed view of the whole Government on how it wishes to proceed. The process by which it has arrived at that view is a matter for the Government, not for Parliament.”

“The Government does not believe that a Code of Legislative Standards is necessary or would be effective in ensuring quality legislation. It is the responsibility of government to bring forward legislation of a high standard and it has comprehensive and regularly updated guidance to meet this objective. … Ultimately, it is for Ministers to defend both the quality of the legislation they introduce and the supporting material provided to Parliament to aid scrutiny.”

It’s troubling that the House of Lords Constitution Committee raised concerns during the inquiry that there is currently no acceptable watertight definition of what constitutional legislation actually is. The current ad hoc process of identifying which bills to take on the Floor of the House of Commons in a Committee of the whole House lacks transparency: it is clear that differentiation is taking place in order to decide which bills are to be considered by a Committee of the whole House, but the decision-making process is “unclear.” The very worrying response:

“The Government does not accept that it would be helpful to seek to define “constitutional” legislation, nor that it should automatically be subject to a different standard of scrutiny. The tests suggested by Lord Norton and the list of characteristics suggested by Professor Sir John Baker are themselves subjective: whether something raises an important issue of principle, or represents a “substantial” alteration to the liberties of the subject [citizen], for example, are matters more for political rather than technical judgement.

Well no, such matters may be more for legal judgement, given the current framework of Human Rights and Equality legislation. The idea that the law is superior to the megrims of rulers is the cornerstone of English constitutional thought as it developed over the centuries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights both refer to the Rule of Law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, is the historic international recognition that all human beings have fundamental rights and freedoms, and it recognises that “… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”

And of course there are implications for our current understanding of the word “democracy.”

Oh. There you have it: the government does seem to regard the liberty of citizens to be enclosed within their own doctrinal boundaries. Those Tory boundaries are entirely defined by partisan dogma and value-judgements, ad hoc justifications, all of which distinctly lack any coherence and rational expertise. Or independence and protection from state intrusion and abuse.

This is a government that has taken legal aid from the poorest and most vulnerable, in a move that is contrary to the very principle of equality under the law.

The Tories have turned legal aid into an instrument of discrimination. They have tried to dismantle a vital legal protection available to the citizen – judicial review – which has been used to stop the Conservatives abusing their powers again more than once. The Tories have restricted legal aid for domestic abuse victims, welfare claimants seeking redress for wrongful state decisions, victims of medical negligence, for example.

Reflected in many Conservative proposals and actions is the clear intent on continuing to tear up British legal protections for citizens and massively bolstering the powers of the state.

The hypocrisy is evident in that this is a government which claims to pride itself on its dislike for the state. But in every meaningful way, the Tories are vastly increasing state powers and intrusive authoritarian reach.

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