The Prime Minister’s disregard for rules-based regimes

6th June 2021

This is just a short post today – more of a signpost – to point you towards an interesting and thought-provoking post by Hannah White at the Institute of Government.

Her post brings together various examples of the contempt in which the current prime minister holds a range of rule-based regimes – showing that for Boris Johnson, to echo Leona Helmsley’s supposed words, rules appear to be for little people.

There are, of course, a number of problems with the prime minister’s approach.

For example, a great deal of the constitution of the United Kingdom is based on self-restraint and convention – and, although many prime ministers have breached constitutional norms, none have done so as openly and unapologetically as the current prime minister.

Another problem is that – especially at the time of this pandemic and also as the United Kingdom adjusts to its post-Brexit future – there will be a need for various rules to be followed as well as made.

And it is difficult to insist on others keeping to the rules when the head of the government himself sees compliance with rules as, at best, optional.

And perhaps the biggest problem is that there is a sense of checks and balances simply not mattering any more – a further move towards a central command polity.

Of course, in our present day hyper partisan political culture, few will care about such things.

The constitution of the United Kingdom is now, essentially, whatever Boris Johnson can get away with.


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23 thoughts on “The Prime Minister’s disregard for rules-based regimes”

  1. I’m reminded of the lines from A Man for all Seasons:

    Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”
    More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”
    Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”
    More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

    The problem is that’s is exactly what Remainers did. Not only by refusing to accept the referendum result, but by actively trying to stop it. From the Supreme Court, the Commons Speaker, Remainer MPs & the Benn Act. It was Remainers who first cut a great road through the law/conventions… they can have no complaints now.

    1. You have a very selective memory of what happened after the Referendum, David.

      But then, we’re used to Brexiteers, blaming everyone but themselves for the mess of Brexit…

      1. I wish people would stop referring to the referendum as “advisory”. Yes, that might have been its strict form but politicians from all parties made it abundantly clear both before and after the referendum that parliament would honour the result.

        1. Accepting for now your argument that the referendum result had to be acted on, tell me what exactly did ‘leave the EU mean’?
          At best the mandate was for a soft Brexit which is what the Leave campaign said with their claim that the UK would stay in the SM.
          As to the idea that it had to be done because all parties said they would respect the result even though it was legally non-binding, to me the best comment came from a a backbench MP who later said ‘Brexit is like taking your kids and mother-in-law to a family movie and after it starts finding out its hard core porn – you get up and walk out.’

        2. So it was “Ill-advisory” rather than ill -advised? Would it have been voted by Parliament if it had been expressed to be binding? Would its wording not have been more precise as to the means of obtaining a given objective out of several options? Form does in fact have substance.

    2. Oh, do go on, David. What “great road” did the Supreme Court cut through accepted law and conventions?

      I find it very hard to believe that Boris Johnson would have acted otherwise but for the actions of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the Speaker, Remainer MPs, etc. Because he is just acting in the same way he has always acted, since he was at school: as his housemaster wrote in 1982, “he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else”.

    3. That’s not “Reaminers cutting a great road through the law”.

      That’s people pushing to have the law applied where and when it mattered most.

      In the prorogation case, had there not been a case to answer, it would not have reached the Supreme Court.

      Same for the Gina Miller “Article 50” case, which, again, went to a court and judges followed the law.

      I don’t understand how you can see “asking judges to make a ruling in law” as “cutting a road through law/conventions”? It’s the exact opposite of what you say.

    4. I find this a remarkable argument. Not a single one of those examples show a disregard for the rules – in the case of the Supreme Court the opposite.

      To try and portray the attempts of some to constrain a Government without a majority from pursuing a ruinous no deal brexit they had no mandate for as the root of the current Government’s contempt is risible.

      The disregard Johnson has for the rules pre-dates Brexit. It’s not as if people didn’t warn this was how he would govern.

    5. Your base instincts were manipulated to empower this Vote Leave government (they are not Conservatives as we understand them). You were seduced by the chance to “Take back control!” – sadly as with all narcissistic abusers what they actually meant was ‘Give us control!’. Unless you’re part of the super rich stratosphere , you’re of no interest to them. You and I are serfs in their eyes.

    6. Astonishing revisionism. Three years ago Sir Ivan Rogers said that ‘Brexit is a revolution, all revolutions self-radicalise and eventually eat their own’.
      At best the referendum was a mandate for a soft Brexit (EEA) as to a man and woman the leading lights of the Leave Campaign swore up and down the land that the UK would not leave the single market.
      That they were very deliberately lying has been well documented in his daily blog by pro-Brexit trade expert Dr Richard North who founded the Leave Alliance which was a major part of the initial Leave campaign.
      He had detailed plan for an initial soft Brexit (Norway for Now) then a later full Brexit and was backed by with Farage and funded by Banks!
      What happened next was Cummings took over the overall lead of Leave and suddenly all honest ‘moderates’ were blanked from the campaign and the message about the future was deliberately made vague.
      As North noted in his blog after that happened “the only way is down’ now since “you cannot legislate lies” and that Brexiters in power will get more and more extreme like “moths dashing themselves against the windshield of reality”.

  2. I don’t suppose it’s surprising that Britiss
    h fascism would come cloaked in artificial bonhomie and Greek posturing.

    Johnson’s instincts are consistent with his new friend Orban’s.

  3. Alexander wishes to be King. Are enough of the electorate capable of seeing this with clarity and acting accordingly? I fear not.

  4. I don’t think there’s anything really that special about the Prime Minister himself. Attempting to disregard the law and make as much dependent on its decrees is a normal thing for the executive to do, all over the world, all over history. If Mr. Johnson seems more insolent than his predecessors, I believe it is exactly because of the hyper-partisan culture mentioned, he simply knows he can get away with more than them. It’s not so much that he changed the rules of the game, but more like he was just the one to notice the change and make use of it. I am not writing it as an attempt to absolve him of guilt, of course, he’s the one responsible for all of his breaches. My point is that sacking him would not change much.

    1. The problem, or one of them, is that defying convention is both driven by and a cause of hyper partisanship. It seems ever escalating with no obvious way to get off.

      Any party which tries to stick within the existing conventions is ineffective either with or without a radical leader. (See the current and the previous Labor leaders)

      If an election can only be won by smashing and or promising to smash conventions they don’t stand much chance.

  5. There was plenty of warning about Johnson’s behaviour .His school reports, previous employers and past relationships all point to a character who thinks he is special and above all the rules and norms to which most people adhere.
    A classic narcissist – inflated sense of his own importance, a need for excessive attention & admiration and lack of empathy.
    There’s worse to come.

  6. Boris Johnson was chosen to lead the Tory party when they were fully aware of who and what he was, I would go as far as to say he was chosen because of those traits which leave you with only one question, why chose such a man to lead your party unless you had every intention of riding roughshod over rules, conventions and laws.

    He was chosen not for what he should do but almost certainly for what they knew he would do because only with such an individual at the helm could they be certain of getting as far as they have with BREXIT.

    I am aware that this opens an encyclopedic range of questions as to the why and the who, but I am also aware that to date few have been willing to even contemplate the obvious preferring to concentrate on the man himself rather than what he is actually doing and why.

    Answer that and you get the key to BREXIT, the process and the reason and know that until people are prepared to accept that there will be no way back for the UK which in the scheme of things is a minor consideration.

  7. But the Tory Party has a small membership, around 200,000, which means that only 0.3% of the populace were able to vote for him in the PM race and of that no. only 0.19% did, about 125,000 people in all. Unfortunately the general populace seemed to chime with the choice at the last General Election but, as always, the numbers were skewed by FPTP and also never forget the super skew Corbyn gave to that vote. We are being run by a handful of maniacs contrary to proper Conservatives.

  8. From where I sit, Remainers tried to be bound by the law and support the rules of the EU. Leavers lied about many things and claimed more legitimacy for the referendum result than was in the law. Now we have a government that has gained its power by lying and interpreting laws very flexibly, at the same time claiming that agreements that they made in the clear of day were not as they now operate. All this is a mess of untruth, which is where the PM thrives. And I think he cannot succeed in his sudden role of chairman of the world from this perspective.

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