Friday, 22 November 2013

Breaking The Law?

There are in my view two fundamental objections to the European Court of Human Rights’ judgment on the UK’s position on prisoners’ right to vote.

The first is by allowing an unelected and unaccountable court to effectively act as a legislator as well; telling Parliament what laws it can and cannot pass - against the expressed wishes of the UK population. It is with dazzlingly irony that the judgement doesn’t actually give prisoners’ the right to vote but instead removes that very right from the rest of us.

The second is that the right to vote is not a human right, unlike for example access to food, clothes and medicine. It instead is a contract between the government and its taxpaying citizens. Democracy resides on the basis of the rule of law. As responsible adults we have duty to abide by those laws, even ones we disagree with and in return we have the privileges of being able to make or influence those laws. It should, if it worked properly, allow us to have say in how our money is spent.

Thus if we breach our side of the bargain and break a law we should expect to be removed from the process during a period of incarceration as a consequence of not keeping our side of the contract.

Conversely if we have no means of making law – we simply have no choice- as in a dictatorship run by fear via tanks on the streets then we have a moral right to ignore the law and break it by virtue of the government having not kept their side of the bargain. An example of this is the Arab Spring.

And this leads me onto our membership of the European Union. One of the most insidious consequences of EU membership is it encourages UK citizens to demand that their government breaks the law when we have no moral right to do so. The EU - and this is crucial - does not rule by fear, it rules by our consent.

The UK, by due process via Parliament has chosen to be a member, has chosen to implement EU law and in many ways gold plates such laws, and has chosen to accept EU diktats. Thus Parliament remains sovereign because it still has the right to leave. It simply chooses not to. The fault line in our democracy is between us the people and Parliament, not between us the people and the EU.

The EU is a club we as a country chose to join and as a country we can choose to leave. The basic principles of joining any club are as follows:
  1. Abide by the rules or laws

  2. Change the laws within the context of membership

  3. Or leave
Public opinion is increasingly saying option a) is not acceptable, option b) which Cameron allegedly advocates is not possible as has been pointed out many times, so that only leaves option c). But option c) remains elusive because the UK population has not yet exercised their peacefully, law-abiding right to demand exit via current electoral processes.

And the establishment cannot cope with option c) so they try to work within option b) with unproductive results. It leads to demands to treat EU membership like an a la carte menu; apparently we abide by the laws we agree with and ignore the ones we don’t. But ironically it becomes a demand that says we wish to remain members - because if we left abiding by EU rules would no longer be a problem.

One can see this a la carte phenomenon by today's Daily Mail article on immigration which made its front page:

This from the same paper that has continually argued for membership of the same club i.e. the EU:
Let the Mail lay all its cards on the table. This paper has no desire for Britain to pull out of Europe [EU]...
Richard North rightly takes apart its report on the detail of immigration - immigration is a fiendishly complex issue, yet what also is disturbing is the Daily Mail (who supports EU membership) implying very heavily that the Government should break the law as the paper cannot bring itself to argue that we should leave the club:
But the threat of big fines from the European Court of Justice was brushed off by almost two thirds of the public.
They said that – even if it meant legal sanctions – the Prime Minister should keep the restrictions in place to ‘serve the national interest’. And 80 per cent of voters say Westminster should retain the final say over who enters the country. 
And even Tory MPs agree:
But, under EU rules, the arrangements must be lifted on January 1. Any failure to do so would be considered a breach of the free movement directive – a founding principle of the EU.

Britain would most likely face heavy fines, but the European Court of Justice – the EU’s enforcement arm – is notoriously slow moving.
Tory MPs believe the 2015 general election may even have passed before a verdict is handed down.
I most definitely don't want to encourage the government to break the law - it should be subject to the same laws as the rest of us - otherwise therein lies a very slippery slope indeed. Instead what such position highlights is sovereignty or more accurately the lack of.

Such sentiments are also expressed in the view, often in newspaper comments, that other countries ignore EU laws so why don't we? Such sentiments are not true - we are not the most compliant state and nor is it correct that other EU nations flagrantly ignore EU law. We can see this by the latest report by the EU Commission on application of EU law (click to enlarge):

As becomes apparent the UK has more infringements than France, yet is still 9th on the list. And also regarding infringment procedures the UK comes 9th (again click to enlarge):

The implementation of EU law is actually rather good across all member states and so it should be, we chose to join we can choose to leave. But while we remain members we have a duty to abide by the law - EU law or otherwise - so any demands to ignore EU law while we choose to remain members carries with it no moral weight.

We simply just have to leave...


  1. The Mail irritates me beyond reason (apart from misleading captions and poorly understood science) because of its strong pro-EU stance - shown by occasional leading articles - but then frequently giving the impression of the opposite in its features and opinion pieces. Presumably this is to keep up its readership numbers.

    1. Aye, agreed... it simply throws a few eurosceptic bones to its readers but will betray them when the referendum time comes.

  2. I don't even accept that access to food, clothes or medicine is a human right. The only right that I can see is the right to possess those things that one has legitimately acquired. To assign rights to others that would eventually enable them or their champions to take away those things that are owned by the individual cannot ever be seen as legitimate rights. I may wish to subscribe to funds for those who are less able them I to provide themselves with food, clothing and medicine, but that's my choice and not something that these unfortunates can demand of me.

    1. @JiC I was trying to make the comparison that food is essential to human survival therefore qualifies as a "human right" while voting is not because it is only necessary if we are to accept a government who requests to tax and spend our money.

      In this context I think it's a fair comparison.

  3. As far as I'm concerned all prisoners can have the right to vote. As long as they can't have postal votes and there is no arrangement to take them to a polling station. But yes of course they can have the 'right' to vote if they can find a way to do it.

  4. Off-topic, so apologies in advance. However, in a very technical form it's relevant. Also apologies in advance if the answer to the question I'm going to ask is bleedin' obvious and easy to find. I've been looking. My MP can't give me an answer and I can't find it on the Government website.

    Specifically in Westminster UK Parliamentary and Governmental terms, 'What is the EU?'. Does anyone know? I know I can go on the EU website and see their flowery description of what it is, the Westminster description on the Parliamentary website of how unerringly wonderful the EU is, but I can't - specifically in Parliamentary terms of reference - see a definition that a Government Minister might quote to answer the above question.

    Essentially, a significant point being, if it cannot answer that question in a clear manner, how can the same Government ask the electorate whether they wish to remain a member state, or withdraw from it? How could a Government expect to credibly ask that question if that Government cannot even tell the electorate what 'it' - the EU - even is? Let alone what it may, or may not become?

    I can think of many ways to describe the EU, lots of them quite unprintable, so - serious question, I'd appreciate it if anyone has any clear answers on the subject.

    Apologies for the hi-jack, Mr. Frog.

  5. This is partially up the street of this article, & well worth a read.

  6. BF "Immigration is a fiendishly complex issue" I suggest it is not, but that aspects of it are deliberately made complicated by the immigration policies of successive governments.
    Further, mass and uncontrolled immigration and the "open border" to all and sundry from the EU is also deliberate policy, notwithstanding pathetic hypocritical hand wringing from ministers.
    Just have a look at the following to illustrate the point about "deliberate", and part of an ongoing, long term plan to so dilute the homogeneoous British population as to undermine and then destroy all meaningful national identity:
    This man gets it:

  7. The danger will be the way the question's put.