So wrote Tory MP Bob Neill, the chair of the Westminster Justice Committee, in September last year as he urged Boris Johnson to drop his threat to break international law by reneging on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement he had signed with the EU.
The following month, the Faculty of Advocates’ dean felt the need to stress the importance of the rule of law after Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke, in similar terms, about “lefty human rights lawyers and other do-gooders”.
“In a climate of increasing populism, this sort of rhetoric is not only facile and offensive, it is potentially harmful… I simply cannot fathom why it is thought in any way appropriate to attempt to vilify, in public, those that are simply doing their job, in accordance with the rule of law,” wrote Roddy Dunlop. “... challenges to the executive are a necessary part of our democracy. Anything less would be a confession that we no longer live in a democracy.”
Now the Faculty has condemned fresh comments by Johnson about “left-wing criminal justice lawyers”, saying: "These comments go hand-in-hand with recent pronouncements by the Home Secretary and appear to be part of a strategy to undermine the rule of law. Lawyers represent their clients without associating themselves with the merits, or the politics, of their client’s position.”
Attacks on basic principles that underpin the rule of law are not in keeping with the principles of conservatism; instead, they are straight out of Donald Trump’s populist playbook.
It took many US Republicans far too long to recognise that Trump was not actually a Republican, with the penny perhaps dropping when Donald Jr told the rally that preceded the violent storming of the Capitol “this isn’t their Republican party any more… this is Donald Trump’s party”. One question now is whether Johnson is actually a Conservative.
But this kind of attitude is not simply a problem for the Tories, as it makes attacks on ‘right-wing’, ‘unionist’ or ‘nationalist’ lawyers much more likely.
Politicians of all hues should take care not to politicise the judicial system. This may seem tactically advantageous, but it is a strategic, as well as a moral, mistake. After all, no one is in power forever.