Silence is acquiescence. The silence of Theresa May in the face of yesterday’s newspaper attacks on the British judiciary tells us much about our prime minister and her cabinet.
The silence of her Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has come under attack from a former Lord Chancellor, Charles Falconer, in today’s Guardian, pointing out that she has a constitutional duty to defend the judges. He writes:
She needs to make it clear immediately that the government has no quarrel with the judges and has total confidence in them. Disagreement with the judges is dealt with by appeal not by abuse. So far Truss has been completely silent, no doubt waiting for guidance from a prime minister who appears so mesmerised by the fear of what the public may do or think that she is willing to throw constitutional propriety overboard.
Truss’s silence feeds the sense that the government is either hopeless at avoiding conflict or couldn’t care less about the constitution.
That a national newspaper, The Daily Mail, can run a front page with pictures of three judges over the headline “Enemies of the people” without being criticised by the government is extraordinary. That our government is failing to defend the separation of powers between the parliament and the judiciary, one of the corner stones of our constitution and democracy, is more extraordinary.
It is as if our government, many of its supporters and much of the official oppositions (the Labour Party) are rabbits caught in the headlights of the hard brexiteers steam-roller.
But not all. Dominic Grieve, a former Tory Attorney General, has done what Truss should have done yesterday. His analysis was forthright and the story in the Huffington Post starts:
The criticism of the judiciary over the recent Article 50 ruling is “chilling” and reminiscent of “Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe”…. He also described attacks the judiciary as “chilling and outrageous” and “smacking of the fascist state”
The Huff Post report on the silence of Theresa May continues
Bob Neill, the Conservative chairman of the justice select committee, said the attacks were “threatening the independence of our judiciary” and had “no place in a civilised land”.
He told The Times: [pay wall] “Some of the things which have been said about the court’s judgment by politicians have been utterly disgraceful.
“All ministers from the Prime Minister down must now make clear that the independence of the judiciary is fundamental to our democracy. You have to respect that even if you think they have got a decision wrong.
Anna Soubry, a remain campaigner said media reports were “inciting hatred” and continued: “I think we have to call this out and say ‘not in my name’.”
Stephen Phillips, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, a brexit campaigner, who resigned his seat yesterday, said in his letter to constituents:
It has been a great honour to serve the people of Sleaford and North Hykeham for the last six years, but it has become clear to me over the last few months that my growing and very significant policy differences with the current Government mean I am unable to properly represent the people who elected me,
That goes to the heart of the problem. Too many MPs feel cowed by brexiteers to be “delegates” rather than fulfilling their constitutional role as “representatives”.
Those parliamentarians who have spoken out against the attacks on the judiciary emphasises the silence of Theresa May, Liz Truss and other members of the Government.