The interaction of sovereign nation states has always been a matter of power and self-interest. Britain lost sight of this during the Tony Blair years and tried to implement a so called “Ethical Foreign Policy”, which led to us performing some of the most unethical acts in our history, such as the Second Iraq War. It is time that we reasserted the principle of British sovereignty and self-interest as the foundation of both our foreign and domestic relations.
Anything that limits British sovereignty is contrary to the interest of Britain qua sovereign nation state. It is in this context that we should view international law. The law in Britain and in any other democratic sovereign nation state is grounded in Parliament and the voters. If it is not grounded in this it is undemocratic. If voters cannot change a law that they wish to change by means of voting for a political party to change it in Parliament, then that law is a form of tyranny from without. Why should we accept a law that we cannot change?
Of course, from time to time countries come to agreements and make treaties. But history is littered with treaties that no longer obtain. Borders have changed for a variety of reasons, agreements and pacts that once existed now no longer exist. The truth is that international law insofar as it exists is simply a reflection of power rather than justice.
Only individuals and states that have lost power, often because they have lost a war, end up being tried in international courts. Victors and states which retain power are never tried.
For this reason, if Britain comes to an agreement with a foreign power and if it signs a treaty such a treaty should be contingent on it being in Britain’s self-interest to uphold it. If it ceases to be in our interest, we should do what we can to undermine it. Of course, other countries also have their self-interest and they may object to our treating these laws and treaties in this way. We also must take into account our reputation as a trustworthy partner. It may at times be necessary to maintain a treaty we dislike because to fail to do so would lead to undesirable consequences, but this is still looking at the issue in terms of the self-interest of Britain. But countries break international law and treaties all the time and mutual self-interest means this is quickly forgotten.
Take for instance our relationship with the EU. We may decide that there is an agreement that we formerly made with the EU that is now contrary to our interest. The EU may threaten to prosecute us using international law. But there is absolutely nothing that makes us submit to this law nor to accept any punishment.
International law in the end is bunk. If I defy a British law, I will find myself arrested by the police, sent to court and punished by imprisonment or a fine. Who will imprison Britain or make us pay a fine? So long as we have armed forces, we can simply defy whoever wishes to punish us.
While the law of each country is ultimately enforced by its sovereignty, there is no sovereign power to enforce international law, which ultimately means there really is no international law, merely power relations of self-interest. It may be in Britain’s interest to accept a ruling of an international court. We may wish to avoid the displeasure of other countries. But this is simply a matter of calculation.
With regard to the present dispute, Britain may wish to remain good friends and neighbours with Ireland and the EU. There would be negative consequences of falling out with both. The EU might decide to sue us or engage in some sort of trade war. Our reputation with other powers may decline as a result.
But there could be negative consequences for the EU and Ireland as well if there was a serious rupture of good relations with either.
The EU depends for its security partly on Britain. There are only three serious armed forces in Europe, the Russian, the French and the British. If the Americans decided to go back to their historical position of isolationism, which is always likely at some point, especially because it pays for European security while getting little thanks in return, then Europe would depend as it always has on the British and the French.
But isolationism is part of Britain’s traditional response to Europe. Brexit was a continuation of this tradition. Britain could go further and declare that our policy is armed neutrality. Why should we defend EU member states who are so unfriendly that they wish to sue us? Of course, this would mean leaving NATO, but NATO anyway is addressing a threat from the 1940s rather than the 2020s. If America left NATO because of frustration over EU member states unwillingness to pay their way, why should Britain fill the gap?
Even if we remained in NATO the EU should reflect that Britain might find itself as unable to help Poland as Portugal would be. Our armed forces might be busy elsewhere or in need of repairs. Fundamentally the EU must reflect that falling out with someone who you want to defend you is folly. We don’t have to defend you. Russia would have to fight its way all through Europe before it reached us.
The EU is a collection of sovereign states each of which can enforce its own laws within its own territory, but the EU itself is not a sovereign power and lacks the means to enforce its own laws even within itself. It has neither a police force nor an army.
Only a German or a French court can make German or French citizens follow EU law. For this reason, EU law is also ultimately bunk. There is no force to make anyone do what EU law tells it unless the law of a sovereign nation state like Germany or France tells its citizen to obey too. This is because the EU is not sovereign. This is also what makes its law bunk.
When we are in a dispute with the EU we are really in a dispute with the important powers in the EU, which for their own self-interest wish to force Britain to do what we don’t want to do. History is about great powers, not little powers.
Germany’s strategic interest is to extend its power and influence over the European continent by means of economics rather than tanks. France’s strategic interest is for Germany to pay French wages by means of subsidy while above all else stopping German armed forces invading France again.
Britain’s self-interest is to assert our sovereignty over the whole of our territory including Northern Ireland, while being as free as possible from EU rules and regulations so that we can undercut them.
Ireland has been useful to the EU as a means of preventing Britain from leaving the EU completely. But Ireland must reflect carefully about its long-term strategic interest. If Britain is able to find ways round treaties with the EU, we can certainly find ways round treaties with Ireland. Where would your backstop be then? Where indeed would your Belfast Agreement be or indeed your Common Travel Area, letting you come here to live when there is no work in Ireland or when previously you couldn’t get an abortion? The only force you have to defend any of these things is EU law which you have just discovered is bunk and IRA bombs, which you always threaten us with whenever something happens that you don’t like. It’s not Britain that threatens the peace process. It’s you.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2020/09/eu-law-is-bunk.html