Jonathan Sumption (London, 73 years old) should live in the Tower of London, along with the rest of the Crown Jewels. The ‘Britain’s Brightest Mind’, as friends and rivals have defined him, has an uncommon capacity for analysis and oratory, and is the go-to source of information from time to time for shake off clichés and prejudices about a complex country even in its clumsiness.
Rebellious and tenacious when it comes to defending what he passionately believes in, the former judge of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has been one of the most critical voices of confinement during the pandemic. The governments – he fundamentally criticized that of Boris Johnson – succumbed to fear and ignorance and imposed, he maintains, draconian measures that financially and mentally ruined the younger generations and aggravated other health problems of the population, such as cancer cases that were not properly treated.
That is why, just in the week in which the final report on Downing Street parties during the confinement has been published, he says he shares the general irritation about the scandal of the partygatebut for reasons that differ from those of most.
“The rules were ambiguous and poorly drafted. You couldn’t leave the house if it wasn’t to work. What happens then if, during your working day, someone shows up with a bottle of champagne and another 10 are added? It’s not very clear that this was illegal, which is why I think the only fine Johnson was given was for the party at his apartment at 10 Downing Street. There are very good reasons to get rid of a politician like Johnson, but this holiday season doesn’t strike me as the strongest. If he had been an exceptional prime minister, I would have given a damn if he broke those rules. The real problem with this story is that it has made Johnson’s degree of integrity abundantly clear. His statements to Parliament [negando las fiestas] They were deliberately misleading, when not simply lying. And that is something very serious. There are people, like me, who believe that the rules were an outrageous abuse. Others thought they were the right thing to do. But both agree on something: Johnson has to go. Although I suspect that he too will get rid of this, ”admits Sumption without abandoning the smile.
Commenting on the perennial conflict between London and Brussels over the protocol that was to define Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the EU, Sumption caught his interlocutor off guard. He has dual nationality, Irish and British. He knows that most English people in that remote part of the UK “give a fig.” But he understands that a customs barrier that separates that region from the rest of the country is unsustainable.
“It was an agreement signed dishonestly by the British Government. I don’t think Boris Johnson ever intended to do it. The idea of creating a customs barrier within the UK is absolutely intolerable. I think we have no choice but to unilaterally modify the protocol. But I will never forgive Johnson that he has put us in such a deeply damaging situation, where we have to choose between complying with an international treaty we have signed or defending a fundamental interest of the United Kingdom. It is an intolerable situation,” he argues.
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—But it is about avoiding a new border in Ireland that revives sectarian tensions…
—I have never bought the argument that a new border would resurrect terrorism. Among other things because the IRA now has a very different position from the one it held before the Good Friday Agreement [el acuerdo de paz de 1998]. He has an increasingly realistic prospect of seizing power politically. Sinn Féin, which was its political arm, is the formation with the most votes in the two Irelands. I think they discovered a long time ago that they can achieve much more through the ballot box.”
He graduated in Medieval History from Magdalen College, Oxford University. Nearing 40, he decided that teaching left him unsatisfied. He prepared to be barristerthat very British type of lawyer who, unlike the solicitor, neither deals with the client nor goes down to the mud. Your task is to build the best legal argument to convince the judge or court. Sumption was persuasive enough for the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich to emerge victorious from the great lawsuit that pitted him against his former partner Boris Berezovski. Or for Tony Blair’s government to get rid of a sentence for allegedly inflating the data on the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq possessed, the main reason that prompted the invasion of that country.
Without going through an intermediate court, Sumption was appointed a magistrate of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, where he remained from 2012 to 2018. He was one of the most powerful voices within the institution in defense of the ruling that forced the British Government (Theresa May was then the prime minister) to go through Parliament, and approve by law the invocation of article 50 of the EU Treaty that marked the point of no return from Brexit. Only Parliament, and not the Government, was sovereign to press the exit button of the community institutions.
“I think Brexit was a very unfortunate thing, but not crazy. It was a rational decision. I do not share the arguments that link it to xenophobia, lies or imperial nostalgia. The British chose independence over prosperity,” Sumption reasons at a meeting on Monday. “The UK made a mistake, and I am afraid there is no going back now. The only possibility of rejoining a united Europe would be after a profound remodeling of the community institutions, and that would only happen in the event that there was an economic catastrophe first. Something unlikely, ”she concludes.
“Brexit is the defense of a British foreign policy with 500 years of history, which has always fought to prevent a single power from dominating the continent. Whether it was Napoleon or Hitler. Everything suggests that, in the long term, the EU will end up being something similar to a large federal state. The paradox is that, with its withdrawal, the United Kingdom has weakened the part most opposed to federalism in the European Union, and has brought what it feared closer: a large continental bloc on which, moreover, it no longer will have influence. The reality is that UK politics and economics will continue to be dominated by Europe, without having the ascendancy that we had. A serious mistake”, he states.
Between trial and trial, Sumption wrote four volumes on the Hundred Years War, widely praised by historians, which highlight his high analysis and love of detail. Interestingly, history has made him very skeptical about the law’s ability to improve people’s lives. “When you multiply rights, you increase grievances”, he has written on occasion.
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