Boris Johnson’s law-breaking Brexit bill is straight out of the Donald Trump playbook, and leaves justice secretary Robert Buckland looking “a very small figure,” says shadow justice secretary David Lammy.
As the controversial internal marketbill returns to the House of Commons this week, the prime minister appears to have bought off most Tory rebels by promising a parliamentary vote before the powers in it would be used.
But Lammy, who was a barrister and the first black Briton to attend Harvard law school before becoming Labour MP for Tottenham, says the government has dented the UK’s standing in the world by legislating to tear up the Brexit withdrawal agreement that Johnson himself signed up to.
“The conservatives have abandoned the rule of law, abandoning an international agreement which we signed up to just a year ago and then claiming as we go to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world that they can’t see this,” he said. “It’s a very, very curious position. I’ve never seen it in my lifetime.”
Asked about the government’s motive for the drastic measure, which Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis openly conceded would break international law, Lammy said it was “populism” and compared it to the no-holds-barred politics of the Trump White House. “It’s a playbook. Notes are passed, strategies discussed,” he says.
“People describe [Johnson’s chief adviser] Dominic Cummings as a revolutionary, and I’m afraid … it’s not clear where [Johnson] stands because he hasn’t really got a position. He will take the position that’s most advantageous to him at that particular point in his life; and he’s attached himself to some very dangerous people determined to get their way. And I don’t know what they’ll leave behind but I think Britain will be a very different country.”
Asked about the role of Buckland, Lammy said:“I think he’s looked a very small figure.”
He cited the resignations of Richard Keen as advocate general for Scotland, and head of the government’s legal department Jonathan Jones over the legislation, and criticism of the legislation by the Bar Association and the Law Society.
Lammy said: “He is in a unique position, because he is the only cabinet member to have made a special undertaking to stand up for the rule of law. And he hasn’t stood up for the rule of law, he’s rolled over, he’s allowed his belly to be tickled.”
With the Tories keen to portray Labour as “soft on crime” Lammy stressed the government’s poor record in keeping the streets safe – as well as the importance of rehabilitation.
“They’re committed to giving us 20,000 police officers – the 20,000 police officers that they’ve cut. And what that has meant is that crime is soaring. It is an absolute disgrace that knife crime, gang crime, drug crime is all up under this government, and the serious violence taskforce I was asked to sit on by Theresa May has not met under Priti Patel.”
Lammy highlighted the fact that Labour had backed recent changes to anti-terror laws in the wake of the Streatham and Fishmonger’s Hall attacks, saying: “We’re not afraid to be clear that sentencing has to reflect the public mood.”
But he added: “I do believe in second chances. I do believe in rehabilitation. I want probation restored. The vast majority of prisoners have to come out one day, and you want them to come out and not go back and commit more crime.”
An ardent supporter of calls for a people’s vote during the last parliament, Lammy was plucked from the backbenches by Keir Starmer when he won the Labour leadership earlier this year.
Lammy said that under Starmer, Labour had begun to “get our mojo back” and said the party was “enjoying a kind of renewed professionalism”. But he stressed the “long haul” to the next general election in 2024.
Starmer has been criticised by some BAME MPs and party members for failing to take the Black Lives Matter movement seriously enough.
But Lammy praised his leader’s refusal to be drawn into a culture war. “The key issues of our time are the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and the economy and the huge joblessness,” he said.
“Yes, Boris Johnson would prefer you to believe that the key issue is securing Winston Churchill’s statue, or singing at the Proms. But that’s a distraction – and Labour would be being incredibly naive if it fell into those distractions.”
Send your news and stories to us email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and WhatsApp: +447747873668.
Before you go...
Democratic norms are being stress-tested all over the world, and the past few years have thrown up all kinds of questions we didn't know needed clarifying – how long is too long for a parliamentary prorogation? How far should politicians be allowed to intervene in court cases? To monitor these issues as closely as we have in the past we need your support, so please consider donating to The Climax News Room.