Michael Josem is a marketing & communications professional. He is a resident of the Isle of Man who formerly worked for members of the Liberal Party in the Australian Parliament.
Today, the legitimacy of parliaments to make laws comes not from their divine rights but, rather, from the consent of the governed. The Westminster Parliament has a legitimacy to make laws for the UK, because the people of the UK give their consent through a free and fair democratic process. The US congress has a similar legitimacy – just as the parliaments of Canada, Australia, France and elsewhere do. They have a right and duty to make laws for their own people – but not for others. This principle should not be controversial in 2019.
In a bygone era, parliaments (most obviously Westminster, but other European parliaments, too) did not accept such constraints on their power. In colonial times, Westminster created laws for its overseas colonies of North America, Australasia, Africa and elsewhere. This practice substantially ended in the twentieth century, because our civilisation recognised that the parliament of one people has no moral right to rule over another people. The United Kingdom was a key leader in recognising that its parliamentary “children” should be allowed to mature and make their own decisions.
Despite the obvious moral illegitimacy of one parliament making laws for another people, there is today a group of Westminster MPs who appear to recognise no such constraint on their power. Led by Andrew Mitchell and Margaret Hodge, these neo-colonialists are seeking to change company regulation in the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man and Channel Islands without the consent of the peoples who live there.
With the support of much of Labour and the minor parties, they appear to have been able to construct a parliamentary majority to amend the Government’s Financial Services Bill to impose these new rules upon the Crown Dependencies. A vote has been postponed but is none the less likely to happen.
There are good arguments in favour of the legislation that they propose, and good arguments against it, too. But those arguments should not be heard in Westminster, because Westminster has no moral legitimacy to force its rule upon the Crown Dependencies on this issue. The people of the Crown Dependencies do not vote in Westminster elections, and so their view is not represented Westminster. Because the people of the Crown Dependencies have no say in Westminster, there is no legitimacy for Westminster to say what happens in the Crown Dependencies.
Of course there are some areas in which Westminster can legitimately legislate for the Crown Dependencies. The governments of the Crown Dependencies have consented to various British regulatory and legislative instruments over the years. Most obviously, this includes assenting to Westminster administering foreign affairs and defence.
Similarly, with the consent of the Crown Dependencies, Westminster legislated earlier this year to form a post-Brexit Customs Union with the Isle of Man (despite unhelpful, troublemaking votes from f the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats to oppose this move). This empowerment of Westminster to make trade deals on behalf of the Isle of Man with foreign nations was legitimate because it has the approval of the Manx people, as represented by our own democratically elected government at Tynwald.
The modern political world is witnessing many challenges to established norms of behaviour – mostly from the executives of various countries. While it is unusual to see a legislature break its own behavioural norms, these are clearly interesting times. Rather than try to expand their jurisdiction in an undemocratic manner, Westminster MPs should continue to have some humility about the moral limits to their powers.
Today, the public is demanding more than ever before that political office holders should recognise that they are servants of their people. In that vein, Westminster MPs should remember that they are the representatives of the British people, not their rulers – and when it comes to the Isle of Man, Westminster MPs are neither their rulers nor their representatives. These Westminster neo-colonialists should stop trying to leverage ancient suzerainties to achieve their short-term political goals.
MPs supporting this move covet the power to rule over the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, despite never being elected by the people of the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. If they want to make laws for the Isle of Man, they are welcome to seek election to the Manx parliament at Tynwald. Their legislative power grab will only be legitimate if they have nothing less than the approval of the Manx people.