A British Logan Act is a good idea
BY LEWIS FEILDER
Three Remain MPs were spotted boarding the Eurostar last week, headed to Brussels to lobby EU officials for an extension to the October 31st Brexit deadline. And not for the first time. Exactly a week earlier, Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, had travelled to Brussels for a meeting with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, in which she presumably argued for the UK to remain in the EU. It is of course the stated policy of HM Government to leave the EU by October 31st, in accordance with the result of the 2016 referendum and the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.
In the United States, a law called the Logan Act makes it a felony offence for any U.S. citizen to engage in unauthorised negotiations or correspondence with a foreign government, against the interests of the United States. This makes a great deal of sense to me. As citizens in the UK, we elect MPs to represent our interests. The party with a majority of MPs forms the government, whose ministers represent the country overall. It is therefore the government of the day that is uniquely empowered by this democratic mandate to speak for the country, particularly in the negotiation of international agreements. Not only is it commonsensical – it has been the constitutional convention for centuries, but like many other bedrock parts of our uncodified constitution, they have been wantonly trampled by irresponsible MPs in recent months.
I was therefore pleased to see on Sunday that members of the ERG intend to bring forward a Bill to prevent anyone from undertaking unauthorised ‘shadow negotiations’ with foreign governments, which risk undermining the negotiating position of the government and ongoing diplomatic engagement. It is surely democratically untenable that the work of our elected government to come to an agreement with a foreign power, likely built on thousands of hours of unseen work by Foreign Office diplomats and civil servants can be undone by a small number of MPs who think they can do better?
Take the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British citizen imprisoned by the Iranian regime for political purposes. This is well-known to be a very delicate case, with much behind-the-scenes negotiation being undertaken by HM Government to secure her release, whilst not endangering the lives of other political prisoners being held by the Iranians. Imagine if a rogue Lib Dem or SNP MP were to travel to Tehran and start their own negotiations, because they thought they could do it better. The risk to life would be hugely irresponsible.
Our democratic system is based on the principle that if you think you can do a better job than the government, then win an election and you can form the government. You don’t get to try to run the country from opposition (although this is precisely what Labour are trying to do, with the help of the conniving Speaker, John Bercow). Equally, you don’t get to negotiate on behalf of 67 million people if you are not the government.
I hope that the Home Secretary will give this Bill her full support, so that every future government can be sure that its careful efforts are not undermined by the reckless actions of a small number of self-aggrandising MPs. This matter reaches far beyond Brexit, to the ability of any and every government to do what we have put them in office to do. This Bill should become law as soon as practically possible.
Lewis Feilder is on the Conservative Party’s Parliamentary Candidates’ list and works as a management consultant in London. Follow him on twitter: @LewisFeilder