One of the pillars of international law is the understanding that a treaty between two or more sovereign nation-states is a binding agreement, its duration extending beyond the lifetime of the national governments which negotiate and sign it. This is especially true of those treaties which settle disputes or conflicts between countries. That is why the parallel multilateral and bilateral accords generally known as the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement of 1998 are lodged with the United Nations in New York under the single heading of the “Northern Ireland Peace Treaty”. And why this regional and international settlement forms a significant part of the framework for political and diplomatic relations between Dublin and London.
However, there are many people in the latter capital who argue that no UK government is constitutionally or morally obliged to abide by its predecessors’ agreements on the domestic or international stage; including bipartite treaties. Such accords, goes the theory, are only applicable during the lifetime of one parliament and can be discarded at will by any subsequent parliaments – or governments. That is certainly the tack being taken by Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a leading torch-bearer of the Brexit movement. From a report by The Guardian newspaper:
MPs could undo the Chequers deal once the UK has left the EU, Michael Gove has claimed, saying the prime minister’s proposal was the “right one for now”.
“But the Chequers approach is the right one for now because we have got to make sure that we respect that vote and take advantage of the opportunities of being outside the European Union.”
He is understood to have made a similar case to MPs repeatedly over the summer, admitting he had some discomfort with some terms of the deal but that it delivered on most key tenets of the referendum, including leaving the European court of justice and ending free movement.
This is not the first time that the anti-peace process Conservative Party minister has dismissed the enforceability of any withdrawal agreements between the United Kingdom and the European Union, indicating in previous comments that the country can seek to amend or simply tear up its treaties at a future date. Meanwhile, the Tory maverick MP Boris Johnson has again condemned the so-called Chequers Plan, a desperate plea deal by London seeking approval in Brussels, issuing this bellicose call to Anglo-Saxon arms in The Telegraph:
“If Chequers were adopted it would mean that for the first time since 1066 our leaders were deliberately acquiescing in foreign rule.
There is no other country – large or small – that would accept such an arrangement.
The whole thing is a constitutional abomination.”
Of course, many of the aristocratic and upper middle-class politicians championing the Leave cause in the UK are themselves the descendants of the Norman-French settlers from the Continent who would go on to conquer the island of Britain following the invasion of 1066 CE. While, ironically, the descendants of the native English rulers killed in that fateful year sought refuge and support in Ireland, from where they waged a war to retake their usurped homeland.