OPINION
11/09/2019 09:37 BST

Boris Johnson Disobeying Parliament On Brexit Would Be An Unprecedented Threat To Our Rights

Deliberately flouting the Prime Minister's obligations under law would damage the whole fabric of our legal system, writes Liberty director Martha Spurrier

Press Association

We are living through extraordinary times. Business as usual is no longer a phrase used in Westminster.

For three years, that nation has watched in frustration at the attempts to secure the Brexit vote. For parliamentarians this must be one of the most testing periods of their political careers. However, frustrations aside, it’s absolutely imperative that Brexit is delivered legally.

Recently there has been much speculation about whether or not the prime minister, Boris Johnson will obey the law on the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019.

The fact that this is even a question shows how far from ‘politics as usual’ we have come. A decision by any minister of the Crown – let alone the prime minister – to deliberately evade legal obligations would be profoundly damaging for the whole fabric of our legal system and constitution.

It would also be plainly unlawful. There are many well-rehearsed arguments about what is broken with British democracy. But we have a legal framework and our Parliamentarians must operate within it.

To flout this would be so unprecedented it would be a fundamental threat to the civil liberties and human rights that Britain is so proud of – and which Liberty’s mandate requires us to defend.

Liberty has held governments and Prime Ministers of all political persuasions to account since we were founded in 1934.

We are a cross-party, non-party membership organisation at the heart of the movement for fundamental rights. We are campaigners, lawyers and policy experts who work together to hold the powerful to account. 

We are fiercely independent. We challenge injustice, defend freedom and campaign to make sure everyone in the UK is treated fairly.

When we take legal action, we do it to ensure the UK respects and upholds human rights and civil liberties. We have a long and proud history of bringing legal challenges such as the case against mass surveillance under the Snoopers Charter, or winning equal access to pension rights for same-sex couples.

We fought Labour over the introduction of ID cards, defeated council plans to stop food being given to the homeless, and sought justice for a number of soldiers and their families who had been failed by the armed forces.

We honoured that legacy this week when we sought a judicial review to ensure the Prime Minister obeys the law.

Brexit has left our political system and country in a state of confusion where it’s become harder and harder to separate the facts from the fog of party politics.

That’s why it’s so important we take politics out of it.

This case is nothing to do with whether or how the UK leaves the European Union. Liberty is neutral on the issue of Brexit. We’re not affiliated to any political party, and we don’t take government funding. 

We have played the role of independent watchdog for more than 80 years – and that role has never been as vital as it is now. It’s what makes us the right people to bring this case. We know MPs from all parties are also considering legal action. But this is not a party political or Brexit issue – it is far more fundamental than that.

It’s our hope this action will prove to be unnecessary. We have called on the Prime Minister to make urgent assurances he will comply with his obligations under the Act.

However, we cannot sit back while doubts about whether our Government will abide by the law build and build, until they too become the new norm.

No one is above the law and it is now our duty to ensure the Government remains accountable to it.

Martha Spurrier is director of Liberty