Jonathan Sumption

Jonathan Sumption is an author, medieval historian and former Supreme Court judge

In defence of the EU

Eastern Europe is the graveyard of empires. Rome failed on the Danube, Napoleon on the Dnieper. The epic struggle between the empires of Austria, Russia and Turkey in the first world war ended with the destruction of all three and the fragmentation of eastern Europe, giving rise to the word ‘Balkanisation’. Driving through the Balkans

Judgment call: the case for leaving the ECHR

42 min listen

On the podcast this week: Lord Sumption makes the case for leaving the ECHR in The Spectator’s cover piece. He says that the UK has strong courts and can pass judgement on human rights by itself and joins the podcast alongside Dr Joelle Grogan – legal academic and head of research at UK in a Changing Europe

Judgment call: the case for leaving the ECHR

The debate about the European Convention on Human Rights is in danger of being diverted into irrelevant byways. Hostility to the convention has become a trademark of the right wing of the Conservative party, which invites unnecessary partisanship. This is unfortunate, because the United Kingdom’s adherence to the convention raises a major constitutional issue which

Our academics are attacking the whole concept of knowledge

The first problem about decolonisation is the word itself. Colonisation is the process of establishing control over a foreign territory and its indigenous inhabitants, by settlement, conquest or political manipulation. But decolonisation? It has come to mean much more than the reversal of that process. Today, it refers to an altogether wider agenda, whose central

Good man, bad king: a portrait of Henry III

Henry III sat on the English throne for 57 years. Among English monarchs, only George III, Victoria and the late Queen reigned for longer. But they only reigned. Henry’s problem was that he was expected to rule. In medieval England, the role of the king was critical. Public order collapsed without a functioning court system

The Guardian’s self-laceration is embarrassing to watch

The Guardian is currently engaged in an orgy of sanctimonious breast-beating. After two years’ research commissioned by its proprietor, the Scott Trust, it has discovered that its founding editor John Edward Taylor and some of his backers had ‘extensive links’ to slavery. This has caused something like a nervous breakdown in the paper’s York Way

The cringing self-abasement of Britain’s museums

This is National Vandalism Week, and I have been celebrating it in style. First stop – the London Coliseum for the opening night of English National Opera’s inspiring new production of The Rhinegold. The Arts Council says that the ENO is ‘one of the most dynamic and imaginative organisations working in the country’. One can believe

Was Nato expansion worth the risk?

This is an important and topical book. Mary Sarotte traces the difficult course of Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States during the decade which followed the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, a period which saw Russia’s brief dalliance with democracy and Nato’s advance to the frontiers of the old Soviet Union.

Prima donna: is Giorgia Meloni the most dangerous woman in Europe?

43 min listen

In this week’s episode: Is Giorgia Meloni the most dangerous woman in Europe? Spectator contributor, Nicholas Farrell is joined by Chiara Albanese, a political correspondent at Bloomberg, to discuss the road ahead for Italy’s next likely leader. (01.10) Also this week: Are we entering a new age of digital censorship? Lord Sumption unpicks the Online

The hidden harms in the Online Safety Bill

Weighing in at 218 pages, with 197 sections and 15 schedules, the Online Safety Bill is a clunking attempt to regulate content on the internet. Its internal contradictions and exceptions, its complex paper chase of definitions, its weasel language suggesting more than it says, all positively invite misunderstanding. Parts of it are so obscure that

The magic of manuscripts

Manuscripts have something of the appeal of drawings. They bring you closer to the creative process. Even a copy adds something special to the text: an editorial twist, a decorated initial, a margin full of beasts or just a beautiful script in which every letter is fashioned by hand like no other. Manuscripts do more

Sylvie Bermann personifies French fury over Brexit

Sylvie Bermann was the French ambassador in London between 2014 and 2017. Her stint here was a notable success. She is a highly intelligent, articulate woman, excellent company, an astute observer of the British scene and a notable anglophile, who generated much goodwill for herself and her country. She has taken the opportunity of her

The moment the modern world went wrong

Spectator contributors were asked: Which moment from history seems most significant or interesting? Here is Jonathan Sumption’s answer: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919-20 was where the modern world went wrong. The consequences of France’s vindictive determination to marginalise Germany are well known, and were denounced at the time by John Maynard Keynes in one

Why the Italians understand Brexit

Italy is the only European country where Brexit is viewed with some sympathy and the British are not assumed to be off their heads. It is an odd state of affairs. The country benefited spectacularly from the EU. It transformed itself in a few years from a society of peasants and small craftsmen into an

Britain’s bizarre Italian travel guidance

Here’s a tip. When the Foreign Office advises against going somewhere, hop on the next plane. The mandarins have advised against visiting Italy because of Covid-19. It’s as bizarre as everything else that our rulers have said about the virus. Confirmed cases in the UK are currently more than twice as high per 100,000 as

Social distancing destroys our lives as social beings

A lockdown diary is an oddly negative thing. At the dinner parties that we aren’t going to, we aren’t discussing all the interesting things that we aren’t doing. This week, I am not heading for the Austrian Alps to walk in some of the finest mountain scenery in Europe and enjoy a week of Schubert,