Breaching international law would expose Britain to dangerously


When we send British Navy ships across the South China Sea to maintain freedom of navigation despite Chinese claims, we are calling for such a law. When RAF fighters see Russian planes entering our airspace, we hold it. When we designate parts of the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans as Marine Protected Areas, we are totally dependent on them, because we probably couldn’t monitor such large areas.International law is therefore not an abstract concept which only appears occasionally. It matters to Brits every hour of every day. And we have always been well placed to make use of it because our ancestors were among its main architects. It was the British rulers of the late 19th century who chose to settle disputes with the United States through legal process rather than brute force, and then defended the role of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. British experts have been at the forefront of the work of international legal institutions in The Hague, and all British governments have accepted the jurisdiction of the Modern International Court of Justice as compulsory.

It is not just because we are an enlightened and open-minded people. It turns out that it is in the UK’s best interests to be a strong advocate of binding international rules. We are a country particularly exposed to risks in the world, with the largest financial center in the world, significant trade flows and citizens who love to travel a lot. More than most countries, we need to know that laws are obeyed and debts are paid. Over the centuries we have become so renowned for our reliability and expertise that people all over the world want to settle their disputes under English law. Such preeminence has increased our influence and our soft power even as our physical power in the world has diminished.

Yet the concept of international law also has, for Britain, far beyond even this daily importance. It has provided the foundation and rationale for some of our most important decisions as a nation. The 1914 declaration of war was aimed specifically at confirming a conventional commitment to Belgian neutrality, unlike Germany’s decision to view this as “a piece of paper.” The establishment of the Nuremberg trials in 1945 was, in the words of the prosecution, “to use international law to face the greatest threat of our time – the war of aggression.”

Successive prime ministers have justified their actions abroad on this basis. In 1982, Margaret Thatcher cited “international law must be respected” as one of the three guiding principles of her position on the Falklands. When Russia committed the Salisbury poisonings on our soil two years ago, Theresa May sought and received support from other countries on the grounds that it was “the role of the Russian state in the development of chemical weapons, contrary to international law. “. It is on a similar basis that the UK today opposes acts of aggression, such as Assad’s use of chemical weapons, or treaty violations, as evidenced by recent actions by China in Hong Kong.


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