Reforms since 2015

UK Constitution Unit Update Nove 2021.pdf

Conservative governments tend not to be very interested in constitutional reform but none the less there have been some big changes to the constitution. The biggest has been-


Brexit. The EU referendum, Triggering Article 50 and the withdrawal form the EU  has had a huge impact on the constitution. You could argue that sovereignty has been returned to Parliament.  With drawl from the EU will have an effect on  the relationship between the UK government and the devolved governments.

 The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016 and officially left the trading bloc - it's nearest and biggest trading partner - on 31 January 2020.

However, both sides agreed to keep many things the same until 31 December 2020, to allow enough time to agree to the terms of a new trade deal.

It was a complex, sometimes bitter negotiation, but they finally agreed a deal on 24 December.

 Parliament has regained sovereignty

The withdraw bill converts EU legislation into statute law. This mean it can be amended or replaced by Parliament.

Governments are free to make treaties and trade agreements with countries outside the EU. This has returned this power to Parliament.

Joining the EU meant that EU law would be supreme over UK law- this was clearly established by the Factortame case.  From 2021 Parliamentary law is again supreme.

In its White Paper published on 2nd February 2017, the government stated in Chapter 2 entitled ‘Taking control of our own laws”, that: “The sovereignty of Parliament is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution. Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that”.

Now that it's no longer in the EU, the UK is free to set its own trade policy and can negotiate deals with other countries. Talks are being held with the US, Australia and New Zealand - countries that currently don't have free trade deals with the EU. 

 Parliament has not regained sovereignty

'we will not have truly left the European Union if we are not in control of our own laws' Theresa May Jan 17th 2017

Parliament never lost sovereignty to the EU instead it was part of pooled sovereignty which gave the UK influence over laws across the EU making Parliament more powerful and influential.

Parliament never lost its sovereignty- since it was always possible to leave.

Most EU law dealt with trade and commerce and the environment. If the UK wishes to trade with the EU it will have to abide by most EU regulations whether we are in the EU or not.

The deal in 2021 means Northern Ireland will continue to follow many of the EU's rules in order to avoid a hardening of its border with the Republic of Ireland. This will mean however that new checks will be introduced on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. 

the UK and EU have agreed to some identical rules now, they don't have to be identical in the future, and if one side takes exception to the changes, they can trigger a dispute, which could ultimately lead to tariffs (charges on imports) being imposed on some goods in the future. 

Devolution.  The Scotland Act 2016

After the referendum on Scottish independence the government fulfilled a promise to transfer more powers to Scotland (Dev Max) This gave the Scottish government greater financial independence, new welfare powers and more legislative powers.

EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) This is an attempt to answer the Westloathian Question . The Speaker has been given new powers to declare legislation as 'English only' The creates a new legislative stage.

The Conservatives’ 2015 general election manifesto made few promises regarding constitutional reform — quite the reverse, in fact. On Lords reform, for example, the manifesto stated that ‘While we still see a strong case for introducing an elected element into our second chamber, this is not a priority in the next Parliament.’ That said, it should be noted that the new Conservative government delivered on most of the election promises it had made in the field of constitutional reform within 2 years of taking office in a single-party government. The Scottish government was given greater fiscal (financial) autonomy under the Scotland Act 2016 — see the case study below — and the Wales Act 2017 gave the Welsh Assembly tax-raising powers, further cementing the primary legislative authority that devolved institutions in Wales had been granted in the wake of the 2011 Welsh referendum. Moreover, although the controversial Barnett formula has been left in place in the wake of these and earlier reforms, English MPs were given special privileges in respect of those matters affecting England alone (a form of ‘English votes for English laws’), as promised in the Conservative manifesto. ‘English votes for English laws’ The 2013 report of the Commission on the Consequences of Devolution for the House of Commons (known as the McKay Commission) recommended that only English MPs should be allowed to vote on measures identified as affecting only England. Changes to House of Commons standing orders made in 2015 meant that this form of ‘English votes for English laws’ came into effect. It was used for the first time in January 2016, when only MPs representing English constituencies were permitted to vote on some elements of a Housing and Planning Bill. The system was abolished in 2021. 

If Labour win the next election: Gordon Brown’s – constitutional review is intended to “restore trust in politics”.