Editorial: Lord Keen is in an impossible position for a man of integrity

Graham Ogilvy

Richard Keen is widely respected in Scotland for possessing one of the sharpest legal minds of his generation. A brilliant career at the bar led to his election as Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and ultimately to his appointment as Advocate General for Scotland in the UK government.

But he now finds himself in a situation that is impossible for any man of integrity and honour. The conspirators who surround the hapless and out-of-his-depth Johnson are now openly attacking, and breaking the rule of law.

It was Lord Keen of Elie QC who, in a speech to the Public Law Group on the rule of law and role of law officers, delivered in June 2018, said: “The duty of the law officers is to ensure that the government acts lawfully at all times – that is, that ministers act within the law, and civil servants stay within the law.”

He added: “If the rule of law is disrespected, and falls into disrepute, elected governments will not be able to govern effectively – any government is simply shooting itself in the foot if it undermines the rule of law.”

Last week’s admission by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis that the Internal Markets Bill would “break international law in a very specific and limited way” plainly runs totally counter to Lord Keen’s succinct observations.

It is also a stunning vindication of the view of US political scientist Frank Wilhoit, who said: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: there must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

Now, as dismay and uproar engulf the government – much of it from its own benches in the Commons and Lords – Lord Keen should disassociate himself from a law-breaking administration and resign his post. To do otherwise is to endorse reckless and lawless behaviour that will tarnish Britain’s reputation and ultimately that of those associated with it.

Even the pusillanimous justice secretary Robert Buckland has threatened resignation, albeit in a rather pathetic way, saying he will go if the government breaks the law in “an unacceptable way” – a bizarre statement for any lawyer or politician to make.

Loyalty to country and rule of law must trump loyalty to party, especially when that party has been hijacked by a group of fanatical ideologues for whom the law is an inconvenience.

Unlike many of the Conservative MPs who depend on their salaries and pensions and who find themselves trapped in a Faustian pact that entails them supporting that which they know to be wrong, Lord Keen is a wealthy man. He has no need of a sinecure. His reputation, and that of the law itself, will only be enhanced by distancing himself from the charlatans at No 10 Downing Street and tendering his resignation forthwith.

Graham Ogilvy