Brexit provides the impetus for much-needed reforms to strengthen the British Constitution

Brexit provides the impetus for much-needed reforms to strengthen the British Constitution

One of the consequences of Brexit has been to crowd out from political discourse much discussion of further UK constitutional reform.

The irony is that the UK constitution, unwritten as it may be, will have to adapt to take account of post-Brexit arrangements. Our departure from the EU, and the disapplication of EU Law and its replacement with the new concept of ‘EU Retained Law’, as set out in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, will require new processes, and structures, to be created within the United Kingdom.

And yet, very little thinking has been done about what this all means for the British constitution, and specifically for relationships between the four nations that make up our Union.

We will face these challenges sooner than we think. And with nationalists in different parts of the United Kingdom seeking to use Brexit uncertainty for their own political ends, it is important that unionists have a coherent response.

What has become clear is that there are areas of responsibility previously exercised at an EU level, for example on agriculture or the environment, which in terms of the devolution settlement would normally fall to the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly to be exercised. However, there is a clear shared interest in certain decisions in these areas being taken in future on a common UK-wide basis.

I believe that our departure from the EU provides the impetus to introduce important governmental and constitutional reforms to create a ‘quasi-federal’ future for the four nations of the Union.

In practice, there are four key reforms that I believe are required to strengthen the UK constitution post-Brexit:

  1. A new Statute or Charter of Union. This new Act of the UK Parliament would declare the creation of a quasi-federal state, and provide in law for the UK’s intergovernmental machinery.
  2. A new Senate representing different parts of the UK. The House of Lords as it currently exists should be abolished and replaced with a new Senate, or Upper House, representing different parts of the UK, predominantly if not entirely elected, and fulfilling the role both of a revising chamber and as a counterweight to the House of Commons.
  3. A new UK Council of Ministers. The establishment of UK Common Frameworks requires the replacement of the existing Joint Ministerial Committee system with a new UK Council of Ministers, representing component parts of the country.
  4. A new English Grand Committee. In the absence of significant further devolution or moves to federation within England, there is a need for England as a whole to be represented within the new UK Council of Ministers, with representatives elected by the English Grand Committee.

This package of reforms could, together, address a number of current issues.

First, it modernises the UK Constitution, and allows it to adapt to the new situation that has been created following our departure from the EU, and the disapplication of EU law.

Second, it delivers the long-awaited and overdue reform of the House of Lords, giving a better balance to the UK Constitution and protecting the interests of the nations and regions furthest from London.

Third, it allows the people of England for the first time a proper voice within the institutions of the UK, distinct from that of the UK Government, which also has to have a wider consideration for all the Union’s component parts.

Fourth, it addresses the continuing concerns that exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and also are growing in many parts of England – about an over-centralised state where, despite asymmetric devolution over a period of two decades, there is still pressure for more power to be passed down from the centre.

Taken together, these proposals modernise and strengthen the UK constitution, and help us adapt to the post-Brexit world.  Simply carrying on as we are is not an option.

Murdo Fraser’s paper Our still United Kingdom – A ‘quasi-federal’ future? was published on 22nd April by Bright Blue