Political Agenda – Sir Robert Buckland MP

Robert Buckland’s enthusiasm for his time as justice secretary shines through when he talks about it.

“Without the Ministry of Justice, what values do we have as a country?”

The former barrister, Swindon South’s MP since in 2010, held the post of solicitor general between 2014-2019 before becoming secretary of state for justice under Boris Johnson’s newly formed Cabinet.


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Six months after his resignation, Buckland has had the chance to reflect on the two-year tenure and the disappointment that he still feels about not being in a position to implement the reforms he had begun.

“I needed a parliament in which to fully turn it around… I feel denied the chance to carry out some of the achievements”.

Despite an £8 billion budget and staffed by 80,000+ employees, Buckland says his task was to help the justice department recover from a “historic position where it had been seen as a somewhat of a junior partner in government.”

“The job I was doing wasn’t just keeping things ticking over but making major change”, he points out.

Buckland speaks candidly about feeling “very frustrated” at being sacked as justice secretary.

“It doesn’t seem from what I’ve read and what I understand since, that it seemed to have anything to do with my work… even though everybody said that I was doing a decent job.

“Without that sort of rationale, without that obvious mistake or series of mistakes, I’m frankly a bit nonplussed, to say the least, as to why I’m here and why I’m not still doing that work.”

Buckland, despite his frustration, accepts that the decision was made because of harsh realities in politics at the highest levels of government.

“Politics is a funny and a fickle occupation and I have to accept that sometimes you take the rough with the smooth.

“I’m seeing a lot of the work that I started and championed being carried out, which is good.”

Buckland is open about the challenges facing his old department as the Ministry of Justice adapts to the digital revolution.

“It’s how we harness those opportunities and make technology work for us rather than being the servant of technology”.

Buckland warns: “In China, for example, now AI isn’t just being used to research law and collate facts. AI is making decisions in civil cases in China. There is no human judge.

“I think that’s worrying, I don’t think that’s the right way to go… what does that mean for justice as a concept?”

Born in Llanelli, Buckland’s political awakening came in the 1980s during the miners strikes, a period which he describes as a time of “great ideological strife.

“I got very exercised about the use of unaccountable power”, Buckland admits.

Having joined the Conservative party aged 16, Buckland says he “grew to understand and embrace” One Nation Conservatism, listing the likes of Benjamin Disraeli, Harold Macmillan, and Iain Macleod as influences.

Despite describing himself as a “very pro-European Conservative”, Buckland admits his big political test came following the Brexit referendum and dealing with the “miasma” emanating from Westminster.

“I’ve always believed that you have to take the world as it is rather than the world as you’d like it to be.

“I felt it was my duty, even though I didn’t agree with the result, to implement it and to make sure that democracy prevailed… I shudder to think about the consequences had another course been adopted.”

Buckland is open to the possibility of establishing closer ties to Europe in a post Brexit world. He points to the situation in Ukraine as a “helpful reminder of the shared values” the Western world must uphold in the face of Russian aggression.

Recent days have seen the British public voice their support for taking in Ukrainian refugees. Over 100,000 people alone signed up for the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Buckland says the public’s swift response to hosting refugees is a “wonderful testament to who we are as a country.”

Despite the scheme, the government is being criticized for its response in taking in Ukrainian refugees. This has created new fault lines in ongoing debates about how the UK should run its borders post-Brexit.

Buckland admits he has been frustrated by the “lack of speed and coordination” of the UK’s response to the crisis, but he fires a warning shot to opposition MPs accusing the Conservatives of being “callous” over the issue.

“There’s no monopoly on compassion”, Buckland observes.

When the conversation turns to Buckland’s Swindon South seat, he speaks with fevered passion about the place he calls “home”.

Whilst admitting that Swindon South will never be “a safe seat for either party”, Buckland is adamant he is up for the fight at the next general election.

“Bring it on”, Buckland declares in a resolute tone.

Ex-ministers who have been in government for more than two years can find it difficult to adjust to backbench life after being in government for so long. Buckland admits that his personal success in politics is due to his dedication to his constituency work.

“Having that absolute unwavering devotion to working in the constituency has meant that I’ve had to probably work twice as hard as other people to achieve what I have done in politics.”

Buckland believes that constituency work is the remedy for the hardships in political life.

“There’s a deep sense of achievement in getting stuff done for constituents.

“The bit of casework that might mean that a family finally gets an assessment for their child with a disability which then allows them to access services is a win for me.

“Whatever the regrets and the frustrations of politics… I can always look back on those wins and say, well, yeah, I think I made a difference”.

Buckland, who was Knighted in the 2022 New Year’s Honours list for his political service, confesses Westminster is “a weird place to work”.

It is a place that he clearly still loves. He lists Simon Hoare and Victoria Atkins as good friends. Laura Farris is also named as a rising star in the 2019 Conservative intake.

Whilst acknowledging the House of Commons is ultimately a place of “adversarial debate”, Buckland speaks passionately about the importance of building friendships across the House.

Fellow Welsh Labour politicians Carolyn Harris and Nick Thomas-Symonds are valued colleagues of Buckland’s, adding he has a “lot of time and respect” for SNP veterans Ian Blackford and Joanna Cherry.

Buckland makes no secret that he seeks a return to government, confirming he would be “more than happy to come back in” if asked to by Johnson, but accepted the decision is “a matter for the PM”.

For a politician whose get-up-and-go attitude to politics is undimmed 12 years in, one thing is for sure, he won’t be waiting for a phone call from Downing Street.

“I can’t sort of sit around waiting, I’ve got things to do.”