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Latest 08 September 2020

These are times of high jeopardy for our democracy

“You cannot have freedom without a rule of law… And if you don’t have it, what you tend to get is corruption and that is death to freedom, it’s death to truth, it’s death to honour, it’s death to democracy.” Margaret Thatcher, 1 October 1996.

These are alarming times for those of us who, like Margaret Thatcher, believe in a country governed by the rule of law.

As was reported on Monday and Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, confirmed today, the Government is making deliberate plans to break the law. It wants to breach the terms of a treaty it signed with our biggest trading partner only seven months ago.

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That decision by Ministers would breach the Ministerial Code, a point confirmed in this recent Court of Appeal decision. 

The widely respected head of the Government Legal Department – Sir Jonathan Jones – has resigned. The Financial Times suggests he did so after his advice on the unlawfulness of the Government’s conduct was contradicted by that given by the Attorney General, Suella Braverman. 

Ms Braverman was appointed AG after a modest legal career and her appointment has been controversial. She was widely accused of having breached convention by publicising her (we believe, indefensible) view that Mr Cummings’ trips to and around Barnard Castle did not break the law. We have talked of the vital role of the Attorney General here. And we are reminded of the risks inherent in its cheapening and politicisation when we think back to the part her predecessor, Peter Goldsmith, played in the decision to go to war in Iraq.

Whilst the eyes of the media rightly focus on these constitutional outrages, the multi-billion pound PPE boondoggles continue. Government continues nakedly to break the law by refusing to publish multi-million-pound contracts and by handing out hugely lucrative contracts to long-time associates of Ministers and key advisers. 

These are moments of high jeopardy for our democracy. And we want to tell you what we are doing to protect it.

Taking action is not free of difficulty but we have already initiated preliminary discussions with several leading Counsel around what seems to us to be a clear breach of the Ministerial Code. We have appealed to the Information Commissioner’s Office against the refusals of the Cabinet and Attorney General’s Offices to provide us with details of Ms Braverman’s advice on Mr Cummings’ conduct. Alongside MPs Layla Moran, Debbie Abrahams and Caroline Lucas we are judicially reviewing the Government’s unlawful refusal to publish PPE contracts. And we are judicially reviewing the pork-barrelling of contracts to Public First and – although we have yet to make a formal announcement – others. 

This is difficult, important work. We fight, as we did in the Prorogation case, for the basic principles of any functioning democracy. We do so in the teeth of the most aggressive and iconoclastic Government the country has seen in modern times. No one else is doing this work.

We are grateful for your support. 

Only with your support can we continue to hold the Government to account. If you are in a position to do so, you can make a donation here.