The Government's intention to override its international treaty with the EU, contained in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, has “recklessly thrown away its reputation for integrity – because of a prime minister who believes he is above the law,” says The Tablet in its editorial this week.
The Tablet believes the reason Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave – that the EU was threatening to “blockade” Northern Ireland by cutting food supplies unless it got its way in trade negotiations – was “utterly spurious”. The only people able to implement such blockade were the British, as the EU could not interrupt the flow of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland by itself.
The leading article points out that “when trouble is brewing at home, populist leaders sometimes find it useful to pick a fight with a foreign neighbour, to whip up patriotic feeling and distract attention from domestic difficulties.” But it questions whether Johnson was clever enough to hatch such a plan. The Government's position is too full of holes.
Searching for an explanation of the row, The Tablet notes: “The EU is naturally eager to keep American chlorinated chicken and hormone-fattened beef off the dinner plates of Dublin.” It appears to fear that Britain is refusing to disclose its future policy on food standards because it wishes to keep its options open in its trade negotiations with the United States. If those allowed the import into the UK from the US of foods currently banned in the EU, such as hormone fattened beef or chickens reared in unsanitary conditions but with the carcasses then cleaned in a chlorinated wash, there was a possibility of them being shipped from Britain to Northern Ireland and then across the open border with the Republic.
Johnson's tactic seem to have worked, as only a handful of Tory MPs refused to vote for the new measures. “Whatever happens next, the damage has been done, and not least to the honour of the Conservative Party itself. A deliberate intention to break international law has been declared; Britain can no longer criticise the Chinese, say, for breaking its treaty with regard to Hong Kong, nor indeed the Israeli government for the unlawful occupation of the West Bank.”
The Tablet's second leader commends the policy of Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the Vatican, who has urged a return to normal Sunday Mass observance as soon as possible, within safety limits. There is no substitute for the Real Presence, it says, and despite the widespread practice of streaming Masses over the internet, “watching a screen is not the same as being there”.
It notes the disturbing finding of a recent poll that 61 per cent of previously weekly observant Catholics were intending to return to weekly attendance once the danger had passed. But given the present limits on the size of congregations, The Tablet argues that if 100 per cent wanted to return, parishes would have to provide far more Masses each week and do not have the clerical manpower to meet such a demand.
It is possible that “the pool from which new priests are recruited is too narrowly defined” and therefore “the Church must look again at the case for ordaining married men – and start to take more seriously the debate about ordaining women.” The editor points out that Church may have to adapt to life where the virus’s continuing presence, and the resulting changes in human behaviour because of it, “are the new normal”.