When does unilateralism become authoritarian? Read the UK Report of the CLLL Monitor 2021

The UK has been making the headlines recently for a series of missteps from the side of the Boris Johnson government. As citizens have been urged to show solidarity during the pandemic and have been subjected to harsh restrictions, what has been dubbed as ‘Partygate’ has been revealing itself now. PM Boris Johnson and the members of his closest circles engaged in multiple lockdown parties at the height of the restrictions showing an utter disregard for what the law is. This has been the last straw, leading to the Conservative MPs to launch a no-confidence vote in Johnson as their leader. On 6 June, Johnson survived the vote with all Conservative MPs participating and 59% showing their support in the current PM, namely 211 out of 359. The slim majority raises questions as to how Boris Johnson will proceed considering that the tenures of Conservative leaders after such a vote have been fairly short. While, normally, tensions should have been slightly put to ease after this vote, the Conservative MPs have been further put on edge by Johnson’s and the government’s bill to improve trade between Northern Ireland and rest of UK, published on 13 June. The bill would disregard parts of the agreement between the EU and the UK on Brexit, effectively making it illegal, and yet again placing Boris Johnson into a context in which he is willing to break the law even as his party advises against. The EU has already announced that it will take legal action if this unilateral violation of international law proceeds from the side of the UK

The unilateral style of decision-making of the current PM should not necessarily surprise when considering the recent legislative developments in the UK. Based on SOLIDAR Foundation’s 2021 Citizenship and Lifelong Learning Monitor, the situation in the UK has been worsening in the past years in terms of the participation of other stakeholders in decision-making. The constant defunding of the CSOs and their treatment as service providers is yet another example of how the leadership in the UK tries to limit the participation of other groups in the decision-making process. The behaviour of Boris Johnson is just a widening of the scope of groups disregarded, as now, Conservative MPs seem to be the ones disregard, beyond the other stakeholders that have already been excluded. Freedom of assembly has also been curtailed in the recent years, while the  Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill was a bold move to legalise discrimination through instances of racial profiling. The environment is symptomatic of an isolationism that the UK showed also through Brexit, and the numerous checks and balances that are being diluted with make it increasingly difficult to prevent a leadership that disregards the rule of law and governs on a whim.

Read more about the situation of the civic space and citizenship education associated to this, as well as on the work that the civil society performs to combat this, in the UK Report of the 2021 Citizenship and Lifelong Learning Monitor.