ARTICLE OF THE WEEK By Joanna Cherry QC,MP (Originally published in the National)
YESTERDAY was the first anniversary of the UK Government’s defeat in the Supreme Court in the prorogation case. Recent events suggest that for this Tory Government, law-breaking is habit forming. Lady Hale has had a crack at it again this week over the Internal Market Bill, telling Times Radio that any judge must uphold the law whether domestic or international.
At Westminster this week, SNP MPs led the attacks on the Internal Market Bill. My justice team took aim at the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General for remaining in their posts despite the resignation of the Tories’ Scottish law officer, Advocate General Richard Keen, who said he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his obligations as a law officer with the Government’s policy intentions.
On Wednesday, the Brexit select committee took evidence on the bill from Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge. She was crystal clear that while the UK Parliament may be sovereign under domestic law, this does not impact on the rules of international law – and Articles 26 and 27 of the Vienna Convention mean that international legal obligations take precedence.
In response to my questions, she explained there is also a strong argument that the bill puts the UK in breach of its duty of good faith in Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement, which they signed less than a year ago, even before the powers in the bill are used.
This evidence was so damaging that one of the Tories on the committee, who had forgotten to mute her microphone, was heard to say: “Are we still on Joanna Cherry? 20 minutes. It’s unacceptable.”
Such moments make great reality TV. They also show that the Tories think the SNP MPs at Westminster should be seen and not heard, particularly when they are eliciting evidence from an independent legal expert about the illegality of the Government’s actions.
Armed with this great ammunition Stuart McDonald, our shadow attorney general, and I were ready to have a go at Attorney General Suella Braverman at her question session yesterday.
She has justified her support for the Internal Market Bill by reference to the English legal doctrine of the supremacy of Parliament and the judgment of the UK Supreme Court in the case Gina Miller took against the UK Government in 2017 where it was held that the triggering of Article 50 required an Act of Parliament.
In that case, the Supreme Court said that to be binding in domestic law, treaty obligations require to be enshrined in an Act of Parliament. However, it also said that treaties between sovereign states (such as the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU) have effect in international law and are not governed by the domestic law of any state.
The court was quite clear that such treaties are binding on the UK under international law regardless of domestic law. I was curious as to why the Attorney General had omitted reference to this part of the Miller judgment in her legal opinion, particularly as lawyers are under a professional duty not to selectively cite case law.
Of course, there was no good answer to my question, so she chose to get personal, implying that I was a hypocrite to raise issues about the rule of law and breaching the rules.
She suggested I should direct my “anger closer to home: towards SNP colleagues and those who sit on her National Executive Committee, who, as we speak, appear to be changing the rules to prevent her exclusively from standing as an MSP? Breaking the rules? The SNP could write the textbook on it!”. I took a point of order to correct some of the things she got wrong but as readers of The National know, it was impossible for me to correct what she said about the NEC because it is true.
IT is deeply aggravating to be undermined like this by the party’s ruling body when scrutinising this law-breaking Tory Government but unfortunately, this is not the first time I have found myself undermined by the actions of some members of the current NEC.
It is already in the public domain that this time last year when I was on the verge of winning the prorogation case in the Supreme Court, members of the NEC attempted to have me deselected as an MP, in anticipation of the snap General Election, despite my record and the fact I had already passed vetting. This attempt took place at a meeting which I, as a member of the NEC, was prevented from attending. Members of the NEC are usually afforded the facility of joining meetings by conference call when it is not possible for them to travel to the venue, which can be anywhere in Scotland, but on this occasion I was informed by SNP HQ that this would not be available.
During the General Election campaign, briefing against me from NEC sources continued. This was upsetting not just for me but also for the SNP activists who were working hard in winter weather to have me re-elected as an SNP MP rather than sitting at home briefing Unionist newspapers against SNP candidates.
It was this sort of behaviour that led me not to seek re-election to the NEC at last year’s conference.
This year’s elections should be imminent. In terms of the SNP constitution, the National Conference is the supreme governing and policy-making body of the party. It meets as annual conference once a year and as National Conference on at least one other occasion a year on dates and at a place fixed by the National Executive Committee. The bulk of NEC members come up for re-election at conference.
We have not as yet had a conference this year and of course the pandemic makes the usual conference impossible. However, it is past time that members were told when the much-promised online conference will take place so that they can register as delegates and ensure they are able to vote.
I would hope they would consider replacing those who are bringing the party into disrepute by using their positions on the NEC to conduct personal vendettas or to clear the field of competition for their own candidacy bids or those of their friends.
What we need on our NEC is members whose only priorities are the furtherance of the cause of independence, our country, its people and the party.
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Article or letter of the week is selected from articles and letters published in the Scottish newspapers in the last week. Usually the National. Given events in the last twenty four hours it is even more relevant today than when it was first published.