It has become a current cliché that the British constitution is at a crossroads verging on crisis
The catalyst is Brexit. But the blind do or die pursuit of this goal has moved the debate beyond
The British constitutional rule book appears to be up for grabs from the rule of the law to the role of the monarch, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty and the integrity of ministers.
The unwritten British constitution is a combination of legal precedents established by an independent judiciary interlaced with parliamentary conventions that stretch back 804 years to the Magna Carta. Prior to
Magna Carta established that there was a law and that the monarch was subject to it. It also provided a fledgling parliament with the power of the purse to
Of course, successive monarchs found clever ways around parliament—until Charles I. His free-spending ways coincided with the start of the Age of Enlightenment and a challenge by parliament to the principle of the divine right of kings. The result was the English civil wars and the removal of the king’s head when Charles tried to prorogue parliament. Ironically, Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the parliamentary army, also found it impossible to work with the legislature and ended up dismissing it.
It was not until the 1689 Bill of Rights that that the principle of parliamentary sovereignty was established. Over the following centuries Britain evolved into a constitutional monarchy with an elected representative democracy led by a government which commands a majority in parliament and is accountable to parliament as a whole and—through direct elections—the people as a whole. If the government fails to command a majority in the House of Commons then it loses its mandate to govern. This structure is underwritten by a respect for the rule of law based on precedent and the assumption that the monarch’s ministers act with honour and integrity.
The monarch is the executive. Her powers are vested in a prime minister whose advice she is duty bound to accept. But the laws are made in the name of the Queen. The Queen therefore, relies on the integrity of her prime minister to provide honest advice in order prevent embarrassment or—in the worst case scenario—place her in the position where she would have to reject advice in order to protect the constitution. The Scottish Court of Sessions has ruled that Boris Johnson misled the Queen over the decision to prorogue the parliament. A major embarrassment for the crown.
Respect for the rule of law by
The argument in favour of riding roughshod over the constitution is that a narrow majority voted in favour of Brexit in
Tom Arms is currently working on a book entitled “America