In the U.K: The Joys of Having an Unwritten Constitution

On Thursday, the High Court ruled that Parliament must vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU. A written constitution might have taken care of that. On Friday, The Guardian speculated on the political implications.

How would MPs vote on article 50?

That’s not clear. Most MPs supported remain, but most represent constituencies that voted leave. This will go right to the heart of how the British constitution works: whether MPs should vote according to the wishes of their constituents or in their best judgement (leaving the electorate to decide whether to keep them in a job at the next election).

Having said that, leave was the majority view in nearly 70% of Labour seats for example, so it would probably be electoral suicide for the party’s MPs to rebel (or perhaps even abstain). Such a move could open the gates to UKIP.

Does it make an early general election more likely?

Yes, it must. That is one thing that MPs could possibly do to sort out the conflict between what they think is in the national interest and what their voters want. Although it is hard to think of a single Labour MP who would fancy the idea right now – and it would take a two-thirds majority in the Commons to trigger an early election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

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Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, said she believed colleagues on all sides of the Commons would vote in favour of triggering Article 50, but said “democracy has been asserted.”

“I am also very confident in colleagues in parliament; we are very aware of how people voted – 17 million – to leave the EU. I expect parliament will approve the triggering of the Article 50 process. It’s a question of law.”

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “This ruling underlines the need for the government to bring its negotiating terms to parliament without delay. Labour respects the decision of the British people to leave the European Union. But there must be transparency and accountability to parliament on the terms of Brexit.”

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2 responses to “In the U.K: The Joys of Having an Unwritten Constitution

  1. mike holliday

    I know it is not a solution, but identifying the problem is the necessary first step.
    Democracy is regarded as weak and useless because the politicians lie, cheat, slither and slide as they try to garner the most number of votes.
    Spin not spine is their practice. They have no morals and certainly no moral compass and the result is Brexit.
    Then Prime Minister Cameron and the Conservatives would not bite the bullet and left the decision to the people – and then failed to campaign in any meaningful way to influence the vote.
    May was as big a culprit as any – she’s on record as saying she was opposed to leaving, but in the lead-up to the vote she hardly said a word about the benefits of being in Europe.
    Having acted (or more accurately not acted) to support that European links, the suggestion is that they now ignore the explicit wishes of more than half the country.
    Great. We now have Brexit and an disastrous divide.

  2. The difficult situation has little if anything to do with a written constitution. Canada has a written constitution but its text does not give any guidance to a case like Britain’s. Of course it leads off saying that Canada would be governed by principles similar to those in effect in Britain, so I suppose we have a written text that incorporates by reference an unwritten one!