IEarth was the scene of a Boris Johnson masterclass on deception. In the 2019 election, he fooled millions into thinking his “out of the box deal” was going to “Get Brexit Done!” and we need not worry about the warnings of John Major, Tony Blair and Theresa May about the threat to the colony of Northern Ireland. Johnson’s outright lie that his Withdrawal Agreement would not put a border in the Irish Sea – ‘over my corpse’ he shouted and yet the border is there and Johnson still lives – deceived the so-called hard-nosed Democratic Unionist Party. Finally, he tricked the European Union into believing he was a man of his word when he signed a treaty confirming the special status of Northern Ireland which he had no intention of honoring.
At every step, Attorney General Suella Braverman has her back covered. She dishonored herself, her office, her profession and her country.
The attorney general is one of many particularly British constitutional checks on arbitrary power that Johnson has swept aside. On the one hand, the AG is a politician. On the other hand, he or she must uphold the rule of law and act independently of government. Johnson realized that no one could stop him from naming a sycophant who would do whatever he wanted. Braverman was just the minion he needed.
“She’s here only because she’s a true faith Brexiter,” said a legal figure who, like all my contacts at the intersection of law and government, spoke on condition of anonymity. Johnson “searched for malleable legal figures who would do his bidding and found Suella,” a second said. “I was at a Brexit meeting she hosted and it was amazing to realize she didn’t understand any of the issues,” added a third. “I guess that’s why Johnson likes him.”
Braverman last week justified Johnson’s decision to ignore the majority of Northern Ireland voters as he tried to win back the trust of the Democratic Unionist Party politicians he had so spectacularly deceived by tearing up the international treaty. which he had so sincerely promised to honour. You didn’t have to be a lawyer to grasp the speciousness of his special pleading.
Braverman claimed that – “painfully” – it was necessary to cancel the deal because the EU had created “a trade barrier in the Irish Sea”. But it was Johnson who became prime minister by rejecting May’s plan to keep the whole of the UK close to the EU’s customs union and single market. Johnson has proposed putting a border in the Irish Sea so the rest of the UK can have a hard Brexit. Johnson took the idea to the EU, won a general election on it, had his officials draft a treaty that delivered and signed it into international law.
Braverman said the EU’s implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol was “unreasonable and disproportionate”. I challenge you to read the protocol and show me where the EU broke the deal Johnson wanted. She concluded by displaying contempt for her audience, and of course herself, saying “the trade is being hijacked”. Clearly, the trade is hijacked. Northern Ireland is part of the Single Market and Customs Union. His businesses are doing well. So good, indeed, that businesses in the rest of the UK may want to join.
Hannah Arendt was not only describing dictatorships when she said, “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all top-notch talent, regardless of sympathy, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty.
Any hierarchical organization under authoritarian direction does the same. To understand how Braverman rose to a position that specifically requires the incumbent to display independent thinking, his bigotry and mediocrity must be balanced.
In 2020, I reported on the false narrative she made of her life. She won favor with readers of the ConservativeHome website by saying that when she started out as a lawyer in London: ‘I was the shy Tory in my ‘right-on’ human rights law firms ‘. Despite the social stigma, I was inspired by the conservative values of freedom in the face of an interventionist state.
But the chambers she joined after leaving Cambridge University were anything but ‘fair’. She worked at 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square, which was filled with regular lawyers fighting disputes over licensing of pubs and betting shops, not human rights law. One of the alleged ‘right’ lefties was a former Tory MP.
The political advantages of posing as a victim of an arrogant liberal elite were obvious. But cynical careerism doesn’t explain every move. Vanity can matter just as much. Braverman had an ordinary career at the bar, which she tried to make grander than it was by claiming to have contributed to authoritative legal textbooks. Upon inspection, they bore no trace of his name.
Her bravado suggests that on some level she may feel that a dark liberal elite has hindered her rise in law.
Johnson offered her the chance for revenge when he made her the nation’s leading lawyer. Now she could show all those sneering liberals who believed in fanciful concepts like governments honoring their word abroad and telling their constituents the truth at home who was boss.
“A self-respecting attorney general would have resigned by now,” a former court officer told me. But Johnson chose well when he nominated Braverman. If he thought she would take a stand on principle, he would never have given her the job. Likewise, had he doubted for a moment that she hadn’t pledged to attack the EU, judicial review and the Human Rights Act, she would have remained an obscure backbencher. .
Its willingness to collude with a violation of international law seems like a small matter. Breaking the deal with the EU will threaten Western unity when we should be sticking together against Russia. The EU could react by starting a trade war, which will hit an economy already suffering from Brexit, inflation and the management of Covid.
In Northern Ireland, the British government’s decision to take an openly sectarian stance in favor of a die-hard Protestant minority could threaten the fragile peace.
However, the collapse of our institutions is still worth noting. For all its contradictions, the attorney general’s office once demanded respect. Now, that’s no better than being a consigliere for a petty crook.