Today the Unit publishes Monitor 83, providing analysis of constitutional events over the last four months. In this post, which also serves as the issue’s lead article, Meg Russell and Alan Renwick argue that while Rishi Sunak’s premiership has seen a decline in constitutional turbulence compared to the recent past, various points of constitutional tension remain, creating dilemmas both for him and his party political opponents.
Successive issues of Monitor in recent years have told a story of constitutional unease. The premierships of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss saw checks and balances eroded and the rule of law questioned. The last issue – published in November 2022 – reported Rishi Sunak’s promise on entering Downing Street to restore ‘integrity, professionalism and accountability’; but too little time had passed by then to assess his delivery. Four months on, the picture remains complex and mixed. Sunak clearly faces challenges on the constitutional front, particularly in keeping his restive party together.
On the positive side, the Prime Minister appointed a new Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests in December – his predecessor having denied that she needed one – and in January acted swiftly on the new Adviser’s conclusion that the actions of the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Nadhim Zahawi, ‘constitute[d] a serious failure to meet the standards set out in the Ministerial Code’ (see story: Standards in Government). In February, the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, whose conduct remains under investigation, said that he would resign if found guilty of bullying officials.
The government’s approach to relations with the European Union also moved from confrontation to trust-building. This shift helped Sunak to unlock a significantly improved deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol in February (see story: The Northern Ireland Protocol). In the wake of that agreement, the Johnson-era Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – through which the UK would have unilaterally arrogated to itself the right to deviate from the Protocol’s terms, almost certainly in violation of international law – was withdrawn.Continue reading