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The Britishers’ Flexible Interpretation Of International Law

While the exact origins of the term “Britisher” are unknown, the Dutch or German influence in the formation of the now rarely encountered Anglo-American word is obvious. Emerging in the first half of the 19th century, it gradually grew in popularity in the United States as a useful shorthand among journalists and writers for a certain type of British stereotype, whether applied to individuals or to customs. By the late 1800s a number of US newspapers and journals had imbued the description with some of the worse aspects of British imperialism and it was certainly taken up that way in Ireland and India, where it appeared in the contemporaneous accounts and memoirs of nationalist authors as late as the 1930s. Looking at the current antics of the Conservative Party government in London I’m beginning to think that maybe the word is due for a revival. What other way could you describe the hardliner Brexit administration of Boris Johnson and company but as a “Britisher regime”?

The current controversy in the UK began with officials briefing the domestic press that Downing Street intended to introduce legislation that would effectively break the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the European Union earlier this year; while publicly denying the intent to do any such thing. That latter bit of obfuscation was the media line until the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, brazenly replied to a dismayed query in the House of Commons that the planned laws would indeed “…break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

From there on matters got worse as news emerged of resignations and splits among Britain’s most senior law officers, dissent in Tory ranks at the prospect of the UK being labelled a “rogue state” by its former partners in Europe, former prime ministers warning of threats to the Irish-British peace process, and a wave of anger sweeping EU officialdom and European capitals. Anger echoed in the US Congress, on both sides of the aisle, if not among the Brexit-loving White House administration of Donald Trump and his Bannon-lite followers.

Then the big guns really came out, with Boris Johnson taking to the pages of his fan magazine, also known as the Daily Telegraph, where British attempts to turn the Withdrawal Agreement of 2020 into the Munich Agreement of 1938 were matched by the UK premier’s adoption of Hitleran rhetoric to ascribe all sorts of sinister and dastardly motives to the European Union. And if informed observers saw the baleful influence of Brexit-Svengali Dominic Cummings in the article they were probably correct, as Downing Street falls ever deeper under the influence of a serial failure who, like the proverbial stopped clock, manages to be accidentally right every now and again.

Apologists for the Conservative government in London claim that all this is just a sabre-rattling bluff designed to extort further concessions from Brussels, and Dublin, Berlin and Paris, during the ongoing Trexit negotiations. But those jingoistic apologists seem to be unaware, or really don’t care, that Europe is running out of concessions to give in the settlement of a divorce that has technically already happened. At the end of day, Britain may believe in the importance of British pounds before Irish peace, but that may well prove to be its undoing. In more ways than one.

12 comments on “The Britishers’ Flexible Interpretation Of International Law

  1. terence patrick hewett

    This is a brutal struggle about power and who shall wield it: don’t expect “fairness” “morality” “rightness” to enter into it. Just self interest and what you can get away with. The UK Tory party has, in the end, have to answer to the voters: the EU commission doesn’t, so the UK is using it’s ability to act with speed and it’s the fact as far is law is concerned Parliament is Sovereign.

    After 31st December when the UK finally leaves the EU, much will become clearer.


    • No the English government is simply shooting off its head to spite its nose. By saying it will not abide by an agreement it has signed up to (in fact an agreement it demanded off the EU back in December), it is saying to the world that “our word isn’t worth shit. Any agreement we sign with you will only be honoured if it helps us and hurts you”.

      And all because BoJo the clown is a) a useless lump of lard incapable of running an ice cream van at the beach on a bank holiday during a heatwave, never mind a country and b) is a man who thinks he is above the law, and in England he is right. What they are doing is expressly against the will of the people and is invariably another step along the road to permanent dictatorship by the tories.


  2. marconatrix

    The bill is also set to allow WM to effectively overrule and outflank at will any decisions of the devolved parliament/assemblies of Scotland, Wales and NI, in effect neutering devolution. So causing trouble within the UK as well as internationally. OTOH if enough resistance materialises within the HofC if might even split the Tory Party. “Interesting Times” to say the very least!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. They also plan to announce their withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the ECHR, this will be worse decision as the Good Friday Agreement was predicated on the UK enacting this into UK law. The UK will have effectively torn up the GFA.


  4. Jams O'Donnell

    Don’t try to rope the Scots and Welsh (and even, though they deserve it, the DUP) into this farrago of s@*!te. “Englisher” as the comic-book Nazis used to be quoted as saying, is the correct term.


    • In the American and Irish/Indian usage it was very much thought to describe a certain type of Anglo-Briton, the quintessential Greater Englander of the Kipling type.


      • Jams O'Donnell

        Yes. There were (are) a lot of right-wing Scots involved, but not so many nowadays.


    • There is another side to that coin. If that term originated in the early US, you are talking about a cultural context that needed some distinction between being Englishness and being a Loyal British Subject or pro-British Empire.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There may be a more prosaic reason why some British conservatives are so prone to “flexible interpretation of the law”: Perhaps it’s a byproduct of an unwritten Constitution.

    That said it’s very unlikely that the EU is going to give in at this point. Even if the UK actually has some great economic or scientific coup to surprise the EU with (most of the best engineering in the UK is found in Franco-British ventures), giving in would be the worst thing they could do.

    One thing I’m afraid, the British Government MIGHT try to play hardball with is the Oxford vaccine. However, that’s a fool’s game as some other vaccines including Pfizer/NBiotech (which is a fine US-Germany venture that has thrived despite Trump’s stupidity, and ironic hardball games towards the land of his ancestors) have a better safety record so far than the Oxford vaccine.


  6. In Scotland the Johnson, Cummings, Gove cabal are furiously making provision for Direct Rule.

    Having already set up an alternative UK Government in Scotland hub in Edinburgh to take over from the Scottish civil service apparatus, the UK internal Market Bill is written to remove power from every area of the Scottish Parliament.

    And on another front we now have the confluence of the Police, Crown Office Procurators Fiscal Service conspiring to convict and incarcerate independence politicians, journalists, and protestors.

    The failed attempt, after spending something like £10 million to try and stick up and jail Alex Salmond on trumped up charges may be well known. But ex Foreign Office and now journalistic campaigner Craig Murray is facing two years for coverage of the Salmond case. Ditto journalist and producer Mark Hirst who has also been charged.

    And on the demonstration front the organiser of the last 100,000 plus independence march in Glasgow was two weeks ago given 72 days jail for refusing to alter the previously agreed March start time from 1.00 pm to 11.00am. And with the Aberdeen March organiser falling foul of some trumped up allegations of civic wrongdoing, it is not difficult to see how the picture builds.

    And on a more individual level just over a week ago an individual protestor from outside Glasgow was arrested in a dawn raid by police at his house and taken into custody. And his crime? Well that was the crime of standing displaying a banner at Edinburgh Airport displaying the sentiment ‘ England out of Scotland. And the charge? Breach of the peace by displaying offensive message and infringement of local airport bylaws prohibiting advertising.

    Parallels with Northern Ireland – I think so. The suppression of independence is now becoming overtly brutal and that is only what we can see. But Ireland knows that as the British give it one too like something you wipe off your feet.


  7. What nobody, of course, mentions is that the Withdrawal Agreement, including the N.I. protocol, itself breaks the Good Friday Agreement and, by extension , international law. It demolishes one of the foundational tenets of the Constitutional Issues section of the G.F.A., which were supposed to guarantee equilibrium between nationalism and unionism in N.I.. So the E.U., supported by the Irish government, has already broken international law. Why is there no fuss about this? Well, the E.U. and the Irish government are hardly going to make a fuss when the law has been broken in favour of their political aims and philosophy. And, of course, most of the blame lies with the incompetent May and the lazy, negligent Johnson, in signing up to such a deal in the first place. The G.F.A. is indeed a much cited, but rarely read document.


  8. terence patrick hewett

    From the Irish Times article by Heiko Maas German Foreign Minister.

    “Thirty years after reunification Germany’s future still lies in “more Europe”This means more shared sovereignty, more effective means of action, and more influence in tomorrow’s world.”

    It is a very illuminating article. How much sovereignty will Ireland have left after fiscal and political union? Precious little except a fig leaf.


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