We recently wrote about the existence of threats to democracy and the rule of law in the UK, drawing particular attention to the Internal Market Bill.

Many members wrote to their MPs, but the Bill nevertheless passed through the Commons and is now with the House of Lords.

Does this mean that its passage is a foregone conclusion?

Only up to a point. The bill will certainly pass in some form, but it is likely that the House of Lords will suggest amendments, and these will be considered by the Commons.

The likelihood that these amendments will be material and that they will be taken seriously has just been increased by the publication yesterday (16 October 2020) of a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution.

The report is damning. It says that the bill is fundamentally flawed in two principal ways:

  • its impact on devolution within the UK; and
  • its impact on the rule of law.

Impact On Devolution

On devolution, the report says:

“The existing devolution arrangements are a delicate mix of constructive ambiguities and balances which for the last twenty years or more, and prior to the stresses put on them by Brexit, have largely worked well. The Bill adopts an unnecessarily heavy-handed approach to reconciling the demands of free trade within the UK and the need to respect the role and responsibilities of devolved institutions…. As such, it risks de-stabilising this integral part of the UK’s constitutional arrangements—at a time when it has never been more important for central and devolved governments to work together effectively. These powers should be removed or subject to clearer duties of consultation and joint decision-making.

Impact On The Rule Of Law

On the rule of law, their Lordships were even more forthright:

The rule of law requires that everyone—from government ministers to the person on the street—be bound by, and entitled to the benefit of, the law. It is an essential characteristic of a democratic society and a fundamental principle of the UK constitution. The rule of law also includes compliance with international law; treaty obligations are binding on nation states as a matter of international law once they are ratified.

The Bill provides extraordinary delegated powers that the Government acknowledged are for the purpose of breaking international law. Their use could place the UK in contravention of the Withdrawal Agreement and Northern Ireland Protocol agreed with the European Union and implemented by Parliament in domestic law in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.

Setting out explicitly to break international law in this way is without precedent. It jeopardises international obligations the UK recently ratified, undermines domestic law and is contrary to the rule of law. The Government has not provided a satisfactory justification for this course of action and we do not consider that there can be one. This constitutionally dangerous approach is compounded by the Government seeking to put these powers beyond the reach of judicial oversight—a step that is also fundamentally at odds with the rule of law.

A government that disregards the rule of law cannot easily restore it. Any diminution of the rule of law is cause for serious concern. Society cannot afford to take this principle for granted or acquiesce in its violation. The rule of law is essential to an open and democratic society and the institutions which embody and protect it. Any government that seeks to secure widespread compliance with the law must itself adhere to it.”

What can you do?

If this matters to you, please write to your MP asking her/him to take notice of the comments in this report and to support amendments which address the concerns it raises. This website makes it easy for you to do that.

And please do sign-up  and join the 99% Organisation.