Barry Turner

Columnist

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.


The US it now seems will have a new president on the 20th January next year.

The petulance of Mr Trump is now fading and the vacillating support of Republican lawmakers and state governors is evaporating by the minute.

The last echo of this odd saga will once again be heard only in the fevored imaginings of the press and media.

The UK too it seems now has a new leader. Dramatic events over the last week are not confined to the dizzy heights of ‘The Hill’ in Washington DC but have occurred in the usually more sedate setting of 10 Downing Street.

The hardcore Brexiteers are on their way out, coincidentally — we can all be sure, with the departure of President Trump.

Two of the architects and driving forces behind the Brexit saga are also departing into what is unlikely to be political oblivion, but gone from number 10 they will be and it was not Boris that saw them off.

On both sides of the Atlantic the scourges of the liberal elite are in retreat again.

As President Trump drifts off into no doubt noisy retirement, here in the UK two of Boris Johnson’s advisors are being prized out of the corridors of power.

What is fundamentally different of course is the mechanism by which the three will be leaving.

Trump’s departure is by way of an election, not a normal election we would all agree but by a democratic process nonetheless.

He was voted in four years ago and he has just been voted out. For all the extraordinary song and dance about election fraud and voter suppression, conspiracy theories and deep states, the reality is he simply lost the election and the populist in chief will finish his term in traditional lame-duck fashion.

Back on this side of the pond, the departure of the populists is more nuanced, to use a word dearly loved by the press.

The two individuals here have never stood in an election, let alone won the popular mandate. Neither Lee Cain nor Dominic Cummings ever stood front and centre for the voter to make a choice about them, or we almost certainly would have never heard of them.

The PM’s advisors shunned the limelight for the real corridors of power, that of the grey eminence of the special advisor. Unelected, unaccountable and in many cases downright unacceptable in a democracy.

For well over a year now our press and interested members of the public have complained bitterly about the power of advisors and wailed about the undermining of democracy by the dark arts of people like Mr Cummings and Mr Cain.

Parliamentarians and political commentators too have ceaselessly criticised the machinations of advisors and their threat to democracy.

How wrong they have all been, how astoundingly ill-informed they have been. Since the referendum campaign began, since the Brexit vote was cast, these advisors have been seen as all powerful and untouchable.

Vast effort has been made by politicians and press alike to cause their downfall… all to no avail. Yet now they have fallen, not at the will of the voter, as Mr Trump did by by something all the more fundamental.

It seems that our PM, long seen as a member of the President Trump appreciation society, has been usurped too. Not by an election, not by a rebellion on the back benches, not even undermined by the Supreme Court or the House of Lords.

No, he has fallen at the whim of his fiancé in alliance with the PM’s new press secretary Allegra Stratton. It is they who have seen off Mr Cain and Mr Cummings where so many before had failed.

There will no doubt be many in the press and among the chattering classes who will be celebrating the demise of the PM’s controversial advisors.

The fall of Mr Cummings, a particularly disliked individual will no doubt at all be seen as a cause for good cheer. However, we should pause for thought before we crack open the champagne.

What kind of a system of government do we have where two unelected individuals whose influence extended far beyond that which is healthy in a democracy are apparently displaced by other unelected individuals, one of which holds no office or appointment of state at all?

In the last few weeks we have been told America’s democracy is in crisis. Democracy has in the United States however prevailed. It is now time we really need to take a very long look at ours.

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

The government’s plan to curfew pubs at 10pm is absurd and counter-productive.

In yet another change of government policy on the COVID-19 pandemic we will see pubs and restaurants close at 10pm as of Thursday. This it is suggested will lower the ‘spike’ or ‘second wave’ in infections that was predicted as long ago as last spring.

It is a ridiculous and futile move based on what seems to be a ‘be seen to be doing something’ strategy.

What it will actually do is deal the final blow to many businesses in this sector and cast more people on to the ballooning unemployment queue.

The cost to date of the governments COVID policies has reduced the UK economy to a basket case that will take decades to recover from. The very last thing that the UK can afford now is the loss of more businesses and jobs.

What is very notable in the latest strategies is the lack of any suggestion that this time a financial safety net will be outstretched for these already badly damaged enterprises to fall into.

How many staff will be furloughed this time? How much in grants can businesses expect to prevent them from becoming insolvent? What about supply chains and retailers who depend on selling to the hospitality sector.

On the face of it controlling the social gatherings of people does appear to be a sensible method of reducing the spread of the virus, except of course it doesn’t — if only life were really that simple.

So, let’s look at the practicalities. A night out with the lads or the lasses would usually start at about 8pm and go on until midnight. We have already forgotten what the nightclub scene looked like and that is not likely to come back now for a very long time.

So now such social gatherings will come to a resounding anti-climax, not at the end of the evening but in the middle of it. The lads and lasses already studiously abiding by the rule of six must wend their weary way home after a brief interlude of a couple of hours. Really?

Let’s look at a more likely outcome. Few friends gather at the pub, no more than six of course. They have a few beers and then the clock chimes ten. They then go off to the impromptu house party to carry on the fun.

Those of us who remember the draconian and utterly futile licensing hours of most of the 20th century can recall the traditions of the time, the carry out and the lock in, affectionately known as the late taste.

When the pubs closed at 11pm and 10.30pm on Sundays the drinking did not stop. What makes the COVID planners think it will now? It is after all their ‘logic’ that suggests that if we send everyone home early, they will not be drunk and careless about social distancing.

Closing at 10pm will not have any effect on this at all any more than the licensing hours of years ago did. The night out can start earlier shifting the concentration of customers to a different part of the day. Same number of people different time.

House parties can proliferate. Of course, those holding them can be prosecuted but is that what we have a police force for? What about the social consequences of that?

The later opening pubs allow for people to come and go in a steady flow, the early drinkers, the mid evening quick pint drinkers and those who want to stay a bit later who saunter off home at closing time.

A steady flow will now be replaced by two possibilities neither of them COVID safe. The pubs may be open for a shorter time with more people crammed into them. An infectious hotspot. Or, they lose customers, not only the later drinker but the drinkers who do not like packed and noisy pubs. No one in the hospitality sector has that luxury, with much of it on its knees and about to fall further losing customers will be the final nail.

With no end to the pandemic even remotely in sight, this will completely wreck the sector and it is unlikely to ever recover.

With no evidence that pubs are a particularly high risk of spreading COVID, with the vast majority having taken stringent measures to control the spread, it is counter intuitive to close down one of the few success stories of this pandemic.

So, the pubs and restaurants are scapegoated again. This has far more damaging consequences than simply the business failures and job losses. A part of our culture and way of life is being destroyed here. What replaces it is not likely to be pleasant.

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

Last week the UK government caused a stir by suggesting that a solution to the impasse created by the failing Brexit deal talks could be resolved by the simple expedient of breaking international law.

Nothing like a revolutionary idea to get the press into a lather. Good old plucky Britain would stand up to Johnny Foreigner again by simply reneging on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Not surprisingly this led to a tirade of outrage among not only the media and opposition benches but also significant noise from those on the Tory side. This is going to run on this week without any shadow of a doubt.

But hold on a moment, is there not some sense in this? If we can’t get a deal on our terms, why should we recognise international law that our government and the Brexit community tell us is detrimental to our national interests.

Why should the UK be dictated to by ‘foreign’ laws? Isn’t that what we voted against in the first place?

So, let’s think again before we knock the idea, maybe it is a solution after all.

While we are about it, we can perhaps look at how the solution of breaking international law might apply in dealing with some of the other knotty problems we face in the world. Maybe the architects of breaching international law have inadvertently come up with a solution after all.

Take Scottish independence for instance. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, has demanded another referendum on the topic ‘soon’. The UK government have said they will not allow one, yet another impasse. But there is an ‘oven-ready’ solution thanks to the wise musings of our government, or more likely its advisors.

In 1707 the Parliaments of Scotland and England agreed on what became an Act of Union creating the United Kingdom. Since at the time of union Scotland was an independent state, this can only be an international treaty, underpinned as it would be by international law. So, here is the solution to the impasse. Scotland can unilaterally rewrite the Act of Union and declare itself independent. According to ministers in the UK government, this is perfectly sound.

It is a fundamental principle of British constitutional law that no parliament can bind its successors. Scotland does not need to be bound by legislation that is 213 years old. After all, British ministers are saying that the withdrawal agreement is out of date and needs rewriting after only one year, not over 200. The UK Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis reassures us that although we would in fact be breaking international law, it would only be in a “limited and specific” way, so that’s alright then.

A unilateral declaration of independence by Scotland would also be ‘limited’ to Scottish self-rule and ‘specific’ to Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon is not demanding she gets Wales too. No problem there then, and it would save all that time and effort in actually having a vote on it too.

Then of course there is Gibraltar. Spain has for as long as memory stretches back claimed that the Rock is Spanish sovereign territory. Acrimonious arguments still plague UK-Spanish international relations today and look like continuing for ever. Perhaps Spain too could use the new argument, so carefully constructed by our government and its ever so wise advisors.

Gibraltar was ceded to the then newly constituted United Kingdom by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 following the War of Spanish Succession. The Rock had been captured by English and Dutch marines during that war and the UK got to keep it. So, it is legally held by Britain under, you got it, international law. Time to apply the new oven-ready, limited and specific remedy. Spain just rewrites the Treaty of Utrecht; it too is over 200 years old and like the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement presumably out of date and in need of that rewrite.

In 1997 Britain handed back part of its old empire to China, being bound by international law to do so. Unlike Gibraltar, Hong Kong was not held in perpetuity by international treaty and this was at a time when the UK had a reputation for upholding international law. By international treaty the terms of the handover required China to recognise the different system of society and government that had grown in Hong Kong during British rule and not impose its own brand of autocracy and oppression there. Sadly, we have seen over the last couple of years that China, no respecter of international law, has breached that undertaking repeatedly.

But can we complain? Not according to the principles that determine the Internal Markets Act. China is rewriting an out of date agreement in a specific and limited fashion and they can also say they are doing it in their national interest, a concept dear to the hearts of all Brexiteers. Breaches of international law are, as we can see here, no laughing matter.

We could go on interminably because Britain is not only a signatory to thousands of international laws, it promulgated and founded so very many of them. That we would now advocate the rewriting of those that are inconvenient to current political expediency is not simply shocking, it is profoundly sad.

One last point though. In 1983 the Argentinian dictator General Galtieri and his Junta ordered the invasion of the Falkland Islands in a clear breach of international law. This to a large extent was also done for immediate political expediency since opposition to him was growing at home. We all know the history. The UK, then still a stalwart supporter of international law, sent a task force and kicked them out, resulting in not only the re-establishment of British rule of the islands, recognised by international law, but of the downfall of Galtieri’s murderous rule at home in Argentina.

It is a sobering thought that the Argentine invasion of the Falklands was also a limited and specific act designed to rewrite an out of date treaty.

The next time Boris plans cooking up his oven-ready bird he should remember that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Barry Turner is Senior Lecturer in Media Law and Public Administration at the University of Lincoln.

+ More stories