Tag Archives: constitutional crisis

Liberalism and Constitutional Democracy

The UK is sliding into a major constitutional crisis. The future of the Union itself presents the most immediate issue, with rising discontent in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. And Johnson’s casual dismissal of the conventions of constitutional behaviour, his insistence that as ‘the people’s government’ (on 43.5% of the national vote in December 2019) he and his ministers can push back parliamentary scrutiny and sweep aside reasoned criticism, is taking us down the road from liberal democracy to authoritarian rule.

Right-wing think tanks call this ‘post-liberalism’ – a kinder concept than authoritarian populism. Constitutional, deliberative democracy is at the heart of liberalism. Liberal philosophy in Britain grew out of the civil war and the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, arguing for limited government, parliamentary and judicial checks on executive power, and toleration of dissenting opinions. The 19th century Liberal Party fought for home rule (devolution), elected local government and successive widening of voting rights, and education, for citizens. Minority rights, civil liberties, power spread as widely as possible rather than concentrated in Westminster and Whitehall, have been central to liberal campaigns over generations.

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Antony Hook: The Supreme Court ruling has opened the floodgates of major constitutional reform

Britain has always been a bastion or the rule of law, internationally respected as an exemplar of fairness, decency and parliamentary democracy.

Restoring a supposed supremacy of the British institutions was central to Boris Johnson’s campaign to wrench us out of Europe. The irony has been lost on few people that he has since tried to suppress Parliament and it has fallen to the courts to intervene.

I know something about Britain’s courts. Before being elected as an MEP, I had 16 years’ service as a barrister. In almost every case I have been involved in, the liberty of an individual has …

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Lord William Wallace writes…Heading towards a real crisis?

When I first read a commentator in a serious newspaper saying, in the early summer, that the UK was heading towards a potential political and constitutional crisis, of the sort that we have not faced for a century, I thought that was an exaggeration.  Now I’m not so sure.  In the course of the next few weeks, if the Prime Minister’s attempts to achieve a deal to leave the EU which will at once satisfy enough members of her party, appeal to a number of Labour MPs as well, keep the DUP on board, and not provoke a run on the pound and a slump in business confidence, collapse, with less than six months to go before the UK is due to leave, British politics – and the British economy – will be in unknown territory.

The atmosphere in Westminster is surreal.  I ran into two senior Conservatives with whom I have worked this week, both of whom remarked bitterly to me about the behaviour of colleagues within their own party.  Confusion, bitter rivalries, and for some despair, grip many MPs within the Labour Party as well.  Neither House is busy; legislation is thin, while we all wait for the government to send us the weight of bills and statutory instruments needed to arrive at an orderly transition at the end of March.  It’s now almost too late to manage that without emergency sessions and extended sittings.  Even the  trade bill, which has been through the Commons and had its second reading in the Lords, is now stalled until some clarity emerges on what sort of future relationship it needs to cover.  And behind that stretches a succession of bills and statutory instruments, promised for last Spring and postponed by the government’s own failure to agree.

The government statement on Tuesday, as Parliament returned, talked of a possible ‘delay between the end of the implementation period and the entry into force of the treaty on our future relationship.’  That suggests that the current uncertainty, which is leading banks and companies to start moving investment and staff out of Britain, could lead after the 21-month transition period, to a void without an agreed framework. Most trade experts say that it will take 3-5 years to negotiate a treaty which will then require ratification by 27 EU states as well as the UK.  The battle within the Conservatives about whether any ‘temporary’ arrangements should be strictly time-limited is about what happens in 2021, with the ideologues determined that we drop out of current arrangements then, and the pragmatists within the government (yes, there are still a few) recognising that our economy – and our security and foreign policy – need certainty about some continuing framework.

Meanwhile, panic preparations are underway to prepare for a ‘No Deal’ outcome, which begins to look quite possible.  You will have heard of the start of work on lorry parks stretching back for Dover – for up to 10,000 lorries, potentially tying up a significant part of the freight transport fleet.  Stories from Whitehall say that officials are being pulled out of their regular duties into emergency teams to prepare for a No Deal scenario.  Across the water, the DUP is threatening to bring down the government, while the SNP is preparing to campaign for a second independence referendum if the UK crashes out of the EU – which they would probably win. The possibility that the UK might break up, with Northern Ireland opinion moving towards favouring unification with Dublin and Scotland going it alone, looks real.

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