From Nukes to Northern Ireland: Breaking International Law is as English as Afternoon Tea

Referring to a major piece of Brexit legislation, British media and punditry issued burning condemnation of the ruling Tory government’s Internal Market Bill, which the former Tory Party chair and current Northern Ireland Minister, Brandon Lewis, says will: “break international law in a very specific and limited way.”


The Bill, now making its way to becoming an Act of Parliament, will see the UK renege on its commitment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the provisions that treat North Ireland (part of the UK) differently in terms of trade and regulations to the rest of the UK. The problem from the UK elite perspective is that Northern Ireland borders an EU member-state, namely the sovereign EU member state the Republic of Ireland, which is party to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, which prohibits any practical border between Northern Ireland (UK) and the Republic of Ireland (EU member state).

Referring to the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement, a King’s College London think-tank explains:

“The Protocol makes extensive provisions regarding the application of EU state aid rules to Northern Ireland, to ensure that businesses there do not enjoy unfair advantages over those operating across the border. But the Protocol’s rules extend beyond Northern Ireland and apply, for example, to component parts manufactured in Great Britain.”

The state propaganda machine, the supposedly liberal BBC, dutifully repeated Minister Lewis’s statement, placing emphasis on Lewis’s weasel words: “a very specific and limited way,” as if a crook could stand before a judge and obviate their legal responsibilities by pleading: Yes, your honor, I broke the law in a very specific and limited way. The right-wing Spectator asks, plaintively: “Why is the UK breaking international law now?”

The same Sky News that helped the Tories to win the 2019 general election by branding it “the Brexit election” in line with Tory propaganda now puzzles over “why” the Bill breaks international law.

A host of war criminal ex-PMs, including Tony Blair (New Labour), David Cameron, and Theresa May (both Tories) spoke out against PM Boris Johnson’s legal violations and the media slavishly repeated their concerns, adjusting the context to suit the incumbents. By why does anyone suddenly care about Britain’s “reputational damage” over its legal violations?


The most serious and immediate threat facing humans and the 30 million other animal species unfortunate enough to share this planet with us is nuclear annihilation. Article Six of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” The 1996 Advisory Opinion of the World Court states: “the complete elimination of nuclear weapons is the only guarantee against the threat of nuclear war.”

Part I, Articles 1 and 2(6) of the NPT Conference 2010 states: “The Conference reaffirms that the strict observance of all the provisions of the Treaty remains central to achieving the shared objectives of the total elimination of nuclear weapons, preventing, under any circumstances, the further proliferation of nuclear weapons and preserving the Treaty’s vital contribution to peace and security.” Despite their legal obligations to work towards the elimination of nuclear weapons, British MPs (including many Labour MPs under then-Labour-leader Jeremy Corbyn) voted to spend £172bn over the next five decades renewing Britain’s Trident system.

Scottish National Party MP, George Kerevan, asked PM Theresa May: “is she personally prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 innocent men, women and children.” May replied: “Yes.” It wasn’t clear which states May would authorize for obliteration, but every nuclear strategist knows that retaliatory launches by other states would create enough soot to plunge the world into decades of nuclear winter and end life on an omnicidal scale. A subsequent poll found that 15 percent of Britons thought that May was “wrong” to say such a thing, compared to 66 percent who thought she was right to say it. This is the same public that later put Boris Johnson in charge of the country.


In 2012, when Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner pressed for Britain to honor its international obligation to negotiate the withdrawal of military forces from Malvinas (the Falkland Islands, UNGAR 2065(XX)), the Tory government under David Cameron reportedly sent a nuclear-armed submarine to the region. The claim made by the Kirchner government is credible, given that sources confirm that Tory PM Margaret Thatcher did the same in 1982 during the Falklands War. “Conventional forces” means non-nuclear. Referring to the Falklands War 1982, future Defence Secretary and war criminal, Liam Fox, wrote: “Whether we would then have dared to re-take the Islands with our conventional forces is very much open to doubt.”

In other words, the fact that Argentina does not possess nuclear weapons but the UK does, enables the UK to have its way. Britain’s nuclear threats against Argentina violate the UN Charter, which prohibits threats of aggression against other states. The nuclear threats are also a violation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco (1967), which designates Latin America and the Caribbean a nuclear weapons-free zone.


The UK also violates the Pelindaba Treaty (1996), which seeks to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in Africa. The Treaty covers parts of the Indian Ocean, including the Diego Garcia archipelago, of which Chagos is a major island. So that the US could establish a military base there, successive British government beginning in the late-1960s depopulated the island, dumping the Chagossians in the slums of London and Mauritius. According to a US Defense Department-funded study: “Support for nuclear-capable military platforms is a key function of Diego Garcia.”

In 2004, after the UK High Court ruled that the islanders have a right to return, the queen invoked the Royal Prerogative to overturn the High Court ruling. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled against the islanders’ right of return. The BBC again dutifully spouted state propaganda, denying the ethnic cleansing: “Families left the Indian Ocean islands in the 1960s and 70s to make way for a US Air Force.” They weren’t forcibly removed, they merely “left.” Rather like the 700,000 Palestinians who just “left” their homeland in 1948.

In 2019, the World Court published its Advisory Opinion calling for the UK to fully decolonize Mauritius, and thus return Chagos to the islanders. In February 2019, the UN General Assembly adopted a Resolution demanding the UK “unconditionally withdraw its colonial administration from the area within six months” (UN press release). The Resolution (71/292) was carried 116 states in favor, 6 against: Australia, Hungary, Israel, Maldives, United Kingdom, and United States.

Other violations of international law by the UK concern the self-determination of Palestinians. Successive British governments recognize that Gaza and the West Bank are occupied Palestinian territories. In 2014, the Labour Party voted to accept the right of Palestinians to self-determination–minus the usual Zionist suspects who later went on to attack Corbyn and accuse him of anti-Semitism. Like almost the entire ruling Tory Party, Labour’s Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge, John Mann, and Tom Watson, abstained from the vote.

Despite many Tory abstentions, the bill passed 274 to 12. By exporting arms to Israel and continuing to trade and invest in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the UK daily violates the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit acquiring land by force (i.e., Israel’s annexation of Palestine), thereby rendering Britain’s actions complicity in war crimes. The domestic vote on Palestinian self-determination only reinforces the illegality of Britain’s position.


We could go on and on: Tony Blair’s aggressions against Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq (Saddam Hussein); Cameron’s aggressions against Libya, Syria, and Iraq (ISIS); successive governments’ complicity in Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen; Cameron, May, and Johnson’s sanctions on Iran and Venezuela; the torture of alleged “war on terror” suspects and journalists (notably Julian Assange); and the murder of British citizens, notably Ryaad Khan in a drone strike authorized by Tory Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon. There also violations of international social treaties, such as Britain’s breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) over its treatment of Shamima Begum, and the broad decimation of domestic social, cultural, and economic rights via the UK’s refusal to adhere to the specifics articles that constitute the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

The current media interested in PM Johnson’s Internal Market Bill mainly concerns Northern Ireland. But it’s worth noting Britain’s long history of treaty violations.

T. J. Coles is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research and the author of several books, including Voices for Peace (with Noam Chomsky and others) and  Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (both Clairview Books).