The Tories start on the authoritarian road

This week marked a bleak precedent for the UK. On Wednesday, the government passed a bill that begins the erosion of the independence of our courts, goes against the European Convention of Human Rights and puts the civil service in an impossible position, not to mention the £400 million of potential money to be sent to Rwanda, when 320 Tory MPs voted in favour of the ‘Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill’.

One problem with the bill, among many, is how it essentially overrules UK judges by declaring Rwanda a safe country without any evidence for the case. Essentially, this is the first notable time that I can remember where the UK government has moved to the authoritarian position of ignoring an evidence-based judgement by an independent body, by creating a law that states the complete opposite. To coin a phrase used by a much loved (not) US President, ‘fake news’ may be allowed to become UK law. In addition to this, the verbal conflict started by the Tories, calling the human rights lawyers “lefty” and thwarting them in the courts, is a clear attempt to sway public opinion on this bill into their favour, does not help in keeping things civil. The public in question has already made their mind up about Sunak and his party, with the Tories polling at a low of (as of 17th January 2024) 20% from the 44% they won in 2019.

The government itself, in the bill, states that they cannot say with confidence whether or not the bill can work within the UK’s international obligations. This is strong evidence of the Tories shifting further and further to the right of the political spectrum. Populist, even. Creating legislation they know breaks international law and rewrites the facts is a dangerous and illiberal road to start on and it is not clear at what point they will stop. If the bill passes the Lords and receives Royal Assent, the UK would be willingly and knowingly breaking human rights law (that the UK helped to create) which not only is a phrase I think none of us ever thought we would hear but makes us weaker on the international stage. Now when we call out other countries on their human rights records? They will laugh at us. Why would they take seriously the concerns of a country that willingly voted to break the conventions it helped to create?

On top of this, the bill forces independent, non-partisan civil servants to carry out the deportation of the people who come here via illegal means, regardless of any injunctions or judgements made by the (again) independent European Court of Human Rights. This puts these civil servants in an incredibly difficult position. Either they carry out something that they know is against international law, they ignore the ministers’ instructions (and potentially face disciplinary action) or they resign in the face of it. It is like being stuck between a rock and a hard place whilst a grand piano is falling from above. I feel sorry for them.

When we go to vote this year, we should vote for reason. Not for this current government that went from respectable opponent in 2010 to populist, right-wing pandering wannabe Trumps in 2024.

* Jack Lee-Brown is a student and a member of the Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evans 23rd Jan '24 - 1:36pm

    A good article by Jack which echos many views that members of our party hold. The only point where I would disagree with Jack is in his headline “The Tories *start* on the authoritarian road.” They started on that road quite a while ago.

    At its most simple, overpowerful rich donors and media moguls saw the opportunity exploit its declining and aging membership to drive the party to the authoritarian right in order to forward their personal political agendas. Now, having used Mr Johnson to drive out and expel the (relatively) liberal wing of the Conservative party and fill it with people with massive chips on both shoulders, they are in a position to use its power in government to subvert and undermine all our values.

    The only thing I would add is that other parties are indeed on the same road, whether it is the Scots Nats who have so quickly got used to exploiting its power for party political needs, Labour in its manic driving out of the Corbynistas, or the DUP in Ulster who after being Conned into supporting Boris’ Brexit Bull have now found a way to bring that poor country’s public sector almost to its knees.

    We are all indeed in great danger.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Jan '24 - 2:14pm

    “The only point where I would disagree with Jack is in his headline “The Tories *start* on the authoritarian road.” They started on that road quite a while ago.”

    My thoughts as well.

    It’s about power and hanging on to it at all costs.

  • Graham Jeffs 23rd Jan '24 - 3:38pm

    It is a pity that as a party we don’t make a point of actually describing the authoritarian challenge to democracy – by regularly pointing out our concerns vocally to the electorate.

    Most people do not realize what is happening and we aren’t telling them! The occasional oblique reference can simply sound like political sniping and simply does not resonate.

  • Barry Lofty 23rd Jan '24 - 3:42pm

    I am also in agreement with this post by Jack Lee-Brown and the following comments and must admit to being very concerned about the way our country and others are becoming indoctrinated by a right wing political agenda.

  • I wonder whether this bill is actually just another mine being primed for the next government. Perhaps LibDems should start the race and declare they would repeal it if it becomes law.

  • Martin Gray 23rd Jan '24 - 5:45pm

    Ultimately the British parliament is sovereign …
    Every country has the right to determine who comes to these shores & for how long .
    If the EU fails to control immigration – then it will be the first nail in the coffin for Schengen …

  • The word “sovereign” gives the game away. Parliament’s job is not to seek the power of absolute monarchs. We are a parliamentary and representative democracy. In many respects Parliament’s power to challenge the executive should be enhanced and the rôle of media institutions needs ongoing debate as we seek a “free press” worthy of our support. The law may sometimes be an ass but most of the time most of us need its protection. It may be better to keep talking about power rather than sovereignty since a successful government is usually one which knows how to share power with local institutions and other functioning democracies as appropriate,

  • Martin Gray 23rd Jan '24 - 8:47pm

    @Geoff Reid..
    “Parliamentary sovereignty is a principle of the UK constitution. It makes Parliament the supreme legal authority in the UK, which can create or end any law”
    What it should or shouldn’t do doesn’t hide that fact …

  • “Sovereignty” – a word being used in two ways. Yes Parliament is the supreme legal authority in the UK; however there are voices within the government who use it to justify their desire to use the monarchical powers of the executive through authoritarian dictates…

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