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Consent: the dynamite at the heart of the British constitution

Popular sovereignty is fundamental, but our politicians forgot it until Brexit. If they forget again, they will blow apart the country

By Helen Thompson   July 2021

The British constitution never looked less like itself than in the final months of the UK’s EU membership. In office was a government that constitutionally speaking should not have existed: one that could no longer command a majority in the House of Commons. Fearing parliament would legislate against a no-deal Brexit, the prime minister used the Crown’s prerogative powers to prorogue it for five weeks. This encouraged some opposition MPs to take to the Scottish Court of Session to petition for parliament’s right to reassemble. In September 2019, the Supreme Court ruled the prorogation unlawful, elevating the judiciary to a role it had not hitherto performed: as the ultimate guarantor of the British constitution’s conventions.

For those who saw the Court’s decision as correct and necessary, the bedrock principle at stake was parliamentary sovereignty. For many who had long wanted Britain to leave the EU, their inspiration was…

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