A “Sovereignty Act” would reaffirm the power of the UK parliamentby Sionaidh Douglas-Scott / January 23, 2019 / Leave a comment
Imagine that Britain Remains in the European Union. Admittedly this does not look so likely at present, but who knows in these uncertain times? If Brexit is called off, we must not simply return to the constitutional status quo. We surely need a new settlement.
Brexit has revealed many flaws in Britain’s aged constitution. Too many of its uncodified rules and conventions are unclear or ambiguous, including many of serious national importance. There is so much that is uncertain: what is the status of an “advisory” referendum; what exactly are the powers of the executive, given that it took litigation (the Miller case) to establish that the government could not trigger Art 50 without parliament’s consent; and what about the Monarch—could her Majesty refuse royal assent to a Bill (eg a backbencher Bill extending Art 50) for the first time in over 300 years? Who has control over parliamentary business and should the Speaker’s word be final? Surely the answers to such questions should be easier to ascertain. Is it not now time to codify the British constitution?
But even if it is desirable to codify the constitution, there is no easy way to bring that about. Options include some sort of constitutional convention, or possibly a “People’s Assembly.” Then there is the question of whether people are sufficiently motivated, and whether they want a written constitution.
It seems doubtful that Britain could reach a consensus on a codified constitution that eluded it in less disturbed times. For, only a few years ago, the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee published its report (“A New Magna Carta?”) on the prospect of a UK written constitution. That report was the culmination of four years’ effort. But no codified constitution came of all that work. Indeed, it is very possible that the Brexit crisis, far from being a “constitutional moment,” has deepened existing divisions in society. For a lack of concern to resolve things in common, along with very distinct political identities, militate against the calm, mature reflection necessary to address these issues of contested authority. Our present turbulent circumstances foster passion not reason.
So, instead, I make a more modest suggestion. Everyone knows that “Taking back Control” was a major feature of the EU referendum. Indeed, achieving legal autonomy from the EU has been a government red line in the Brexit…