By Anna Noble
The ‘rule of law’ lies at the foundation of any democracy. It is the rule that all laws apply to every single person in this country regardless of wealth, status, or political power. It is also a rule that seems to be becoming increasingly theoretical.
During his time as Prime Minister, Tony Blair was questioned by the police on multiple occasions between 2006 and 2007, regarding his involvement in the ‘cash for honours’ scandal of the time. Whilst he was never charged or even cautioned, the fact that he was questioned sent a clear signal—rule of law exists in this country. The Prime Minister is no exception.
Yet, 15 years later, the rule of law seems to be taking a bit of a battering. The Government has been accused of breaking the law left, right and centre, yet there has been little accountability. What is perhaps more stunning is the refusal of the Metropolitan Police to investigate alleged illegal activity.
Met Police has refused to investigate the government over alleged unlawful conduct on at least three occasions. In November, the Met refused to investigate the ‘cash for honours’ scandal despite evidence emerging that supported allegations that the Tory Party were systemically giving Peerages to donors who donated more than £3 million to the party. This seems to directly oppose how the police treated Labours 2006 ‘cash for honours’ scandal, whereby some people were arrested and many politicians alongside Blair were questioned.
The Met has also refused on two occasions (once in early December and again this week) to investigate allegations that Downing Street held parties during the first strict coronavirus lockdown. This week, this refusal comes not only after photographic evidence has emerged, but also after Boris Johnson, in a meticulously worded ‘apology’ (protected from being used in evidence against him by parliamentary privilege), admitted to attending the ‘bring your own booze’ garden party in May 2020. Johnson, in his ‘apology’, denied wrongdoing claiming it was a ‘work gathering’, something which the BYOB invitation somewhat undermines.
This activity is particularly frustrating. In the past year, the Metropolitan Police have been particularly heavy-handed in their interpretation of coronavirus legislation with the general population. People have been fined for sitting on park benches and infamously, their response to a vigil for Sarah Everard was condemned by the public. The fact that the Met is refusing to investigate the allegation severely undermines faith in the application of the rule of law in today’s Britain. George Orwell’s “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” springs to mind. There is also the fact that Met Police officers are stationed surrounding Downing Street, they know who enters, who leaves and at what time. Can we really believe that they had no knowledge of these parties?
The Met’s handling of recent scandals has been so heavily criticised that last month they referred themselves to the Independent Office for Police Conduct over their failings to investigate Downing Streets parties.
The Government scandals and allegations of illegal conduct appear endless. Whilst Johnson was being grilled in the Commons about his alleged partying, the High Court was declaring that the VIP lanes used to offer PPE (personal protective equipment) contracts to people with connections to the Tory Party was unlawful, yet this seems to have been buried, and it is doubtful the Government will face any ramifications for breaking the law.
An opinion piece in the New York Times this week declared that Johnson’s actions, policies and bills “will set Britain, self-professed beacon of democracy, on the road to autocracy”. Johnson’s seeming disregard of the principle of rule of law does little to dispel this argument.
Without the proper functioning of the ‘rule of law’ whereby the Government must follow the rules as the rest of us, we cannot truly call ourselves a democracy. However, the Prime Minister clearly won’t surrender power easily. History tends to judge rulers who don’t think the rules apply to them—the current Prime Minister is doing little to rectify his legacy.
Image: Duncan~ via Wikimedia Commons