Clearly some people chuck away manifestos soon after they have decided who to vote for and indeed obtaining a manifesto and reading it before voting is not common behaviour either. Indeed this is one of the challenges of a party political approach. Those of us who would rather vote for people that we wish to support rather than simply voting for the same political parties do want to know what the candidates are planning to do. When I stood as an Independent Police and Crime Commissioner in 2012 in Sussex one of the most common complaints I received was that there was no public way of finding out what my own views and priorities were which is why I started to write a daily blog. However after an election result is announced, the manifesto of the winning Council or Government becomes a bit more valuable. In the case of people who seek to support their new Government, as good things occur, they also sometimes compare what has happened with what was in the other party manifestos. Yesterday in the House of Commons the Northern Ireland Minister, Brandon Lewis was forced to deal with a series of questions on the issue of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Theresa May – The United Kingdom Government signed the withdrawal agreement with the Northern Ireland protocol. This Parliament voted that withdrawal agreement into UK legislation. The Government are now changing the operation of that agreement. Given that, how can the Government reassure future international partners that the UK can be trusted to abide by the legal obligations in the agreements it signs?
BL – We have worked with the EU in a spirit of good faith, and both sides continue to work in that spirit to implement the arrangements that uphold the fundamental principles that lie behind the protocol. Of course, our first priority continues to be to secure agreement on the protocol on the Joint Committee and on the wider free trade agreement, but the withdrawal agreement and protocol are not like any other treaty. They were written on the assumption that subsequent agreements could be reached between us and the EU on the detail—that is the entire purpose of the specialised Joint Committee—and we continue to believe that that is possible, but as a responsible Government we cannot allow our businesses not to have certainty for January. The reality is that the UK internal market Bill and the Finance Bill are the last legislative opportunities we have to give the people and businesses of Northern Ireland the confidence and certainty that we will deliver what we agreed in the protocol, what we outlined in our manifesto and what we set out in the Command Paper.
A little while later when a number of other people such as Iain Duncan-Smith and John Redwood had asked ‘questions’ that attempted to distract from the idea that the withdrawal agreement terms need to be maintained there came a much more damaging response to a question from another Conservative MP
Sir Robert Neil – The Secretary of State has said that he and the Government are committed to the rule of law. Does he recognise that adherence to the rule of law is not negotiable? Against that background, will he assure us that nothing that is proposed in this legislation does, or potentially might, breach international legal obligations or international legal arrangements that we have entered into? Will he specifically answer the other point: was any ministerial direction given?
BL – I would say to my hon. Friend that yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way. We are taking the power to disapply the EU law concept of direct effect, required by article 4, in certain very tightly defined circumstances. There are clear precedents of this for the UK and, indeed, other countries needing to consider their international obligations as circumstances change. I say to hon. Members here, many of whom would have been in this House when we passed the Finance Act 2013, that that Act contains an example of treaty override. It contains provisions that expressly disapply international tax treaties to the extent that these conflict with the general anti-abuse rule. I say to my hon. Friend that we are determined to ensure that we are delivering on the agreement that we have in the protocol, and our leading priority is to do that through the negotiations and through the Joint Committee work. The clauses that will be in the Bill tomorrow are specifically there should that fail, ensuring that we can deliver on our commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.
Now clearly one of the challenges is that if a Minister is asked a question and has no experience, he is placed in a difficult position. Brandon Lewis was a Commercial Lawyer prior to his time in the House of Commons but he had left the legal role in 2010 so his involvement in 2013 was as an MP and also between September 2012 and July 2014 he was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. At that time his colleague and our Chancellor was George Osborne and he responded on twitter just before 7pm explaining
My 2013 Finance Act is being cited today as an example of breaking international law. To avoid any confusion: it created a general anti-tax avoidance rule that could override double tax treaties, but all parties to these treaties accept such rules – and the OECD backs them
Perhaps more amusing was a tweet from a chap called Tom Peck who works for the Independent newspaper and although I have not yet seen his sketch, his tweet was very clear.
As explained in my sketch, I asked two tax lawyers to explain the 2013 finance act comparison made by Brandon Lewis. One called it ‘disingenuous’, the other ‘utter bollocks.’
Given that the 2019 manifesto stated as shown above “Getting Brexit done will allow us to do more on the international stage….. anti-corruption efforts and a rules-based international system.” and a couple of years earlier the Theresa May manifesto in 2017 which Brandon Lewis and Boris Johnson also endorsed included “we will bolster
the response to public services, critical national infrastructure, and international law enforcement agencies to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice.” we can only assume that in due course both of these men will step back from their public roles?