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September 2019


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The letter of the law versus the spirit of the constitution

by Peter Franklin

I told you so. The other week on UnHerd, I argued that it is time that the UK had a proper written constitution – but not the kind of constitution that the establishment would like to write for us, which would establish the establishment more deeply than ever.

Lady Hale delivering her judgement this morning

In fact, it is already happening. The Remain parliament, the Speaker, the Supreme Court are effectively re-writing the constitution and doing it without a democratic mandate. Their cheerleaders insist that this is just our existing constitution working as it should do. Well, I’m no position to gainsay the expertise of Lady Hale and her colleagues – their grasp of the letter of the law would appear to be firmer than that of the Government’s legal advisors.

Yet, I’d implore people to consider the outcome of the last decade of constitutional innovation, which has culminated in a minority government that is unable to control the business of the House, unable to deliver the manifesto it was elected on, unable to deliver the outcome of the Brexit referendum (the biggest democratic mandate in British history), unable to command anything like a parliamentary majority, unable to bring a long overdue end to the current parliamentary session, unable to call an election – in short, unable to serve as anything like a functional government.

Instead, we have unprecedented situation in which effective power has been placed in the hands of those either too cowardly to face the voters right now – or who never have to. So, please, don’t pretend this is constitution working as it ought to, quite manifestly it is not. If the letter of the law is allowing its spirit to be trampled underfoot, then it is the former that needs to change.

A properly codified constitution is no longer something that would be ‘nice to have’, but an urgent task on which confidence in our democracy now depends.


Today on UnHerd

20th November 2019