This week it ‘emerged’ that Donald Trump knew coronavirus was deadly in February. He knew and did nothing. With polls narrowing, Democrats are seizing this in order to double down on their COVID-centric strategy and move away from Trump’s ‘law and order’ territory. In an election where even a close, but clear, win might not be enough to actually become the President, this could be an important move.
Trumps’ willful ignorance is conceptually cut and dry. That this might not have been the most talked about dereliction of duty this week, owes a lot to Boris Johnson and Brexit.
Let’s be clear. Boris Johnson knew he would have to entertain the possibility of breaking international law if he wanted free reign to set customs procedures or state aid rules. I’d prefer it if he have hadn’t known; crass stupidity in failing to know what he was signing would have been damaging, but morally excusable. But considering that Johnson ‘championed’ the deal last year, it feels wrong to challenge his intelligence; he probably knew what it entailed. He also knew plans to break the law would be “catastrophic” – before he put it before Parliament.
Firstly the Prime Minister told the electorate that his deal was “oven ready”: he outflanked his rivals and swept a landslide in the December general election. Knowing that his deal was far from ready, he blame-shifts by claiming bad faith. Having promised a quick solution in exchange for your votes, he asks for “trust” to protect the “integrity” of his country.
The lauded Japan deal (itself only signed “in principle”) signs the UK up to stricter obligations than the EU wants. Never mind the resignation of the UK’s top legal Civil Servant, the advice to junior civil servants to inform their managers if they are asked to work on illegal policy or the opposition of the UK’s four other living PMs. Stop and laugh at the ludicrous “limited and specific” defense. But know that, As David Allen Green has point out, this is a point of no return.
Just this summer the UK criticized China for breaking the rule of law in Hong Kong. At its heart, the rule of law is simple; no one, not the government, Parliament or the Queen, is above the law. Whether or not the Bill becomes law and whether or not the key provision is ever used is immaterial. The government has sent a message; we are willing to put ourselves above the rule of law. How can the UK throw a stone at China, or any other state for that matter, whilst sitting in its own glass house?
On the Pariah International-Law Breakers Scale, the UK is at one end and, say, North Korea is at the other. But reputations matter. It is one thing to drive a hard bargain or fight dirty. But it is quite another to sign an agreement and perform such a volte face.
Why does trust and reputation matter? The right question is; why would any company, any country, anybody, trust what the UK says when it can make an agreement knowing it intends to break it? Negotiations can take years- why invest time and effort into a flaky country? Both the Taoiseach and the President of the European Commission have made this point, and it is telling that Nancy Pelosi has stated that the UK can forget a US-UK deal if the Good Friday agreement is put at risk.
That both Johnson and Trump’s choice to ignore what they knew to be true because it suited them are damning indictments of those individuals. Trump has blood on his hands. Johnson damns a nation’s reputation with him.