Liberal International, Dictatorship and the United Kingdom in 2017

Global war followed the descent into dictatorship in parts of Europe in the 1930s. The horrors of WW2, and the dark shadow of communism that fell over east and central Europe and USSR subsequently, led to the consolidation of liberal ideals in the freer world.

A reassertion of liberal and democratic ideals and the principle of human rights was expressed in the Oxford Manifesto in 1947 at Wadham College, Oxford and in the creation of Liberal International. It was the first modern declaration of liberal and democratic principles following the defeat of Nazism, principles which contrasted starkly with the totalitarian tenets of Soviet communism.

The successor of the Oxford Manifesto was the Universal Declaration of Human rights by the UN (UN UDoHR) in 1948; a beacon for democrats and liberals the world over, since. The Oxford Manifesto and the UN UdoHR provided a common reference point for political parties across the globe who bravely opposed dictatorship and corruption, enabling Liberal International to shed light on oppression and authoritarianism and support those parties.

There were high hopes after the fall of communism in 1989 and 1991, that essential principles of liberalism, democracy and human rights would take hold in much of the world.  However, the rise of authoritarian populism a decade ago has threatened that progress.

Advocates of liberalism and democracy have fought back against this new wave of pro-dictatorship populism.  In April 2017  Liberals from around the world came together on the same spot at Wadham College, University of Oxford, where Liberal International was established 70 years earlier. A new Oxford Manifesto was born, addressing this new wave of authoritarianism and reaffirming liberalism in this more modern context.

However, after the defeat of authoritarian populist parties in France, S Korea, Netherlands, Canada and elsewhere, the UK is going in the opposite direction. Who would have imagined even 5 years ago that the Oxford Manifesto would become a tool against dictatorship in the United Kingdom.

Proposals published by the UK government related to Brexit, copy and paste 40 years of applicable EU law into domestic law in the UK. At the same time the system of protecting the public from misapplication or oppressive use of these laws – EU human rights principles and the European Court of Justice – is being severed.

They provide that, in perpetuity, the government will be able to change these and all other related laws at will, without reference to parliament and without any protections for the public such as human rights principles or courts. This is not the path to dictatorship, it is actually dictatorship, at least for the vast body of law which ‘used to be’ EU laws. Senior counsel in the UK, EU and elsewhere are aghast.

There will be a presentation of the 2017 Oxford Manifesto at Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, at the Highcliffe Marriot in the Bryanston Room at 8.15am Sat 16th Sept. There will be a discussion of how far the UK is moving away from those original post-war principles, reaffirmed in April 2017, and what international and domestic pressure can be brought to avert an alarming slide towards dictatorship in the UK. Deputy Leader Jo Swinson will be outlining discussing the Party’s approach towards the international challenges now facing the UK. It will be an important and historic meeting.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance.

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8 Comments

  • Paul Reynolds 11th Sep '17 - 9:08pm

    LDV READERS PLEASE NOTE. THE EVENT IS 815pm (20.15 hrs) NOT 815am. ALL WELCOME. APOLOGIES FOR THE TRANSCRIPTION ERROR.

  • William Ross 12th Sep '17 - 1:27pm

    Paul

    It would be more commendable if your only mistake in this hysterical article was the erroneous meeting time noted in your comment.

    You talk about the Government`s unlimited power to amend EU laws passed into British law as being in “perpetuity”. This is nonsense. The government`s power to amend stated in the EU Withdrawal Bill is strictly limited and can be challenged if used illegally. Furthermore, the power to amend is not forever, but limited to two years after exit date. You say that this state of affairs ” is not the path to dictatorship, it is actually dictatorship”. This is a frivolous statement. I have seen Cuba and I know what dictatorship is……

  • Andrew Melmoth 12th Sep '17 - 2:15pm

    William Ross
    You obviously haven’t read the bill. Clause nine gives ministers the power to amend the terms of the bill itself. All safeguards can simply be removed by executive fiat.

  • William Ross 12th Sep '17 - 3:13pm

    Andrew

    I have read the Bill including Clause 9 and I wonder if you have? Clause 9 allows the Minister to make legislative amendments ” appropriate for the purposes of implementing the withdrawal agreement if the Minister considers that such provision should be in force on or before exit day” The Minister is given this power for a limited purpose ( implementation of the withdrawal agreement) and subject to the important limitations of Clause 9(3). ( no new crimes, taxes etc) This power is also for a limited time only ( up to exit date only — see also Clause 9(4)) and all of this is subject to judicial review.

    Are these really dictatorial powers granted in perpetuity? I wish the powers of the Commission were so limited. After exit date the UK as a sovereign independent country will be able to amend the former EU law in any manner it wishes. This is called democracy.

  • Andrew Melmoth 12th Sep '17 - 6:07pm

    William Ross. You missed out
    “Regulations under this section may make any provision that could be made by an Act
    of Parliament (including modifying this Act).”

  • William Ross 13th Sep '17 - 10:01am

    Andrew

    I certainly did not. Any regulations under Clause 9 can only be for the purpose of implementing a withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement will come into force on exit date. The Clause 9 power expires on exit date. Any use of the Clause 9 power is subject to parliamentary scrutiny pursuant to Part 2 of Schedule 7. Beyond that Parliament can amend the Act at any time.

    Lets put this in context, the author of this article repeatedly refers to a current UK dictatorship and implicitly compared the current government to a totalitarian regime. I have never voted Tory in my life and I even voted to end the UK in 2014! But statements like the author has made disgrace a party which once had serious statesmen.

  • Merlene Emerson 16th Sep '17 - 9:16am

    Thanks Paul for raising awareness about the restated Liberal Manifesto, 70 years after the original Oxford Manifesto when Liberal International was established. The liberals had led the way then and we need to now with the perils of Brexit and the great repeal bill. The Tories clearly don’t care for democracy as seen with their shady deal with the DUP and control of select committees. Liberalism is relevant more than ever today, in the UK as well as in the rest of the world. I believe there is the danger for some LibDems to become parochial and forget that we have a liberal family and sister parties to work with to challenge dictatorial rule. If anyone has any response to Paul’s above blog then why not attend this fringe and raise them there?

  • Paul Reynolds 16th Sep '17 - 5:05pm

    LDV readers shouldn’t just accept my analysis of the UK government’s legislative proposals. They should read the comments of senior Tory MP and prominent lawyer Dominic Grieve who has described the Brexiteer provisions in the Withdrawal bill in similar terms. Remember, there is no politically balanced or judicial body to determine whether laws being ‘amended’ by the government are necessary for the purposes of withdrawal from the EU, so the definition of the extent of relevance to withdrawal will be a moveable feast. What the UK government could have done is create a committee in parliament (or a judicial body) to sift the technocratic necessities of withdrawal from material legislative changes which will require parliamentary scrutiny. It might have also created a process to oversee the constitutionality of the application of the new laws. The so called ‘necessity’ of the government’s approach just does not hold water. As Grieve and others have said from the Tory benches, this is using Brexit to further expand the powers of the executive branch of government, just as it has done with other areas of legislation in the past. This is not taking back control for the European Council and European parliament to the UK parliament. It is transferring powers from the EU to the Cabinet, and in practice to senior pro-Brexit civil servants.

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