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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Explained: Why has Amal Clooney quit as UK’s Special Envoy for Media Freedom?

Amal Clooney, a barrister who specialises in human rights and international law, assumed the role in April 2019. Why is she quitting now?

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 20, 2020 10:17:48 am
International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney smiles during a Foreign Ministers G7 meeting in Dinard, Brittany. (AP Photo: David Vincent, File)

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney Friday quit her role as the UK’s Special Envoy for Media Freedom. Her decision was over the government’s proposed internal market bill, a move that could potentially be in violation of international law. The bill will prevent new barriers to intra-UK trade once the country leaves the European Union single market after the Brexit transition period ends in December.

On Wednesday, the government’s law officer for Scotland, Lord Keen quit due to his opposition to the bill. A week before Keen, the government’s chief lawyer, Jonathan Jones also stepped down.

What is the UK Special Envoy for Media Freedom?

Clooney, a barrister who specialises in human rights and international law, assumed the role in April 2019. She was responsible for convening a panel of legal experts to issue recommendations on legal and policy initiatives that could help states improve media freedom, a part of a media freedom campaign led by the UK and Canada. She did not receive a fee for her work under this role.

Prior to taking the role of Special Envoy, Clooney served as counsel for journalists and media workers, including Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative reporter imprisoned in Azerbaijan for reporting on corruption, Al Jazeera’s former bureau chief in Cairo Mohamed Fahmy, and Pulitzer-prize winning Reuters journalists. She has also represented Nobel Peace prize winner Nadia Murad who was captured by the Islamic State.

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Why has Amal Clooney quit the UK’s Special Envoy for Media Freedom?

In her resignation letter to foreign secretary Dominic Raab, Clooney wrote, “My role was intended to help promote action that governments could take to ensure that existing international obligations relating to media freedom are enforced in accordance with international law. I accepted the role because I believe in the importance of the cause, and appreciate the significant role that the UK has played and can continue to play in promoting the international legal order.”

Clooney goes on to say that the government’s intention to pass the Internal Market Bill “by the government’s own admission, ‘break international law'” if enacted.

“Although the government has suggested that the violation of international law would be ‘specific and limited’, it is lamentable for the UK to be speaking of its intention to violate an international treaty signed by the Prime Minister less than a year ago,” she wrote.

She added that she could not ask other states to enforce and respect international law, while the UK has declared its intention to not do so.

What is the Internal Market Bill?

The Internal Market Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on September 9, seeks to govern trade between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, known as the internal market. The Welsh and Scottish governments see certain provisions in the bill as controversial and have raised concerns over the impact the legislation will have on how internal markets will operate post-Brexit. This is because the legislation attempts to re-write certain parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

The Bill proposes: 1) A principle of mutual recognition – meaning any product or service that can be sold in one part of the UK, can be sold in any other part of the UK; and 2) A principle of non-discrimination, which prevents parts of the UK from treating goods coming in from other parts as inferior to their local goods.

The BBC reported: “It gives UK ministers powers to modify or ‘disapply’ rules relating to the movement of goods that will come into force from 1 January, if the UK and EU are unable to strike a trade deal.

Supporters of the legislation maintain it is necessary to protect jobs that depend on trade from the UK and to prevent tariffs on goods coming from the UK into Northern Ireland, which is governed by the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Up until now, the rules and regulations regarding trade were set centrally in Brussels — the de facto capital of the EU — but if the legislation is enacted, rules regarding things like food and air quality will be set in one of the four nations of the UK, a BBC report says.

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