Politics and the law: on collision course?

The diplomatic storm over Tzipi Livni continues

 

William Hague, Harriet Harman and Bob Marshall-Andrews discuss the Tzipi Livni question at PMQs yesterday.

 

On Tuesday, I blogged about the diplomatic row triggered by a British court issuing an arrest warrant for the former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni. It rages on.

At PMQs yesterday (watch the video above), Bob Marshall-Andrews asked Harriet Harman whether she would support the power of the courts to issue proceedings against anyone where there is sufficient evidence. It was a clear reference to this case. Harman replied that she supports judicial independence.

But the plot thickens. The present law allows the courts to issue a warrant for a non-citizen who has allegedly committed a war crime in another country. Today it has been reported that this will change, with Gordon Brown said to be pushing for plans to build in "safeguards" in criminal cases against visiting foreign leaders. These "safeguards" will entail granting the attorney general full power of veto for suspected war criminals.

It might just be me, but does that sound like an encroachment on judicial independence?

It was also reported that Brown telephoned Livni to tell her that he "strongly opposed" the warrant, while the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, called Livni and his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, to apologise. A diplomatic nicety, perhaps, but the planned changes to the law -- which follow calls from Israeli politicians to, well, change the law -- signal a much more worrying collision of politics and justice.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.