European nations as we know them are, constitutionally, mostly infants. As I have written before, by the end of the 14th century in England (and I mean England and not the UK) serfdom had almost practically ceased to exist, the wage labourer having emerged from the Black Death. By the end of the 16th we had an independent and prosperous middle class and were developing systems of law and democracy from which we would emerge through the turmoil of the 17th to the era termed by historians 'early modern'. In contrast, serfdom and feudalism survived in Europe until the mid-19th century, and Europe's birth-pangs took a century or more of war and chaos before democracy (of a sort) emerged. Yes, they have written constitutions - but in English terms, are barely out of nappies;
|Date of Constitution|
For most of Europe, the Maastrict and Lisbon treaties - in effect the EU constitution - are just a natural progression from what are already new systems of governance.
Not so for the UK, though as commenters made clear yesterday, Brexit has exposed major faults in our system which now needs some fixing. The Lords and the Speaker are the most obvious. Allister Heath in the Telegraph does a decent job this morning of setting out the Heads of Terms -
.... the next government will have to legislate to prevent MPs from ever “seizing control” again and then repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. The power to conduct international treaty negotiations must be left solely to the executive; at the same time, the ability to prorogue needs to be codified, alongside much else.
The governance of the Commons must change radically, with the Speaker bound by clear rules. Any MP who wants to change party should be forced to call a by-election.* The House of Lords will have to be scrapped or, preferably, comprehensively reformed, with a debate about who should belong to it and what proportion should be elected and how. An English Parliament is long overdue, with tax and spend genuinely devolved to a properly federalised United Kingdom.
The civil service is in desperate need of an overhaul: ministers should become CEOs, with staff working directly for them. In a world where special advisers have become so important, we ought to discuss whether more ministers should be directly appointed, or belong to the upper rather than lower chamber.Add a general power of recall with a threshold high enough to prevent vexatious abuse and an overhaul of local government and electoral health measures and there you have a legislative agenda for the greatest reforming Parliament for over 150 years.
The next government must take to heart Lord Sumption’s Reith Lecture, perhaps the best political analysis of the year, and row back on the "rights culture". There has been too much mission creep, and too many decisions have been taken by the courts, rather than left to democratically elected politicians. This doesn’t mean that we mustn’t continue to protect rights: on the contrary, I would argue that we need a robust British Bill of Rights to replace our membership of the ECHR.
I hope and believe we can do all this without a written constitution. Just as statute law sits happily alongside common law and precedent, we can achieve change without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As Blair found to his frustration and chagrin, you cannot abolish the Lord Chancellor.
It's really no longer just about Brexit. It's about re-forging our nation for the benefit of future generations, a legacy of love.
*Allister is thoroughly wrong about this particular point; MPs represent their constituents, not their parties. It's the constituents who should have the right to force a by-election, not the judges. A power of recall would cover this.