The latest edition of Monitor, the Unit’s regular news update on constitutional issues, was published today. In this lead article from Monitor 77, Meg Russell and Alan Renwick discuss a Brexit deal that has already led to tension with the EU; change at Number 10 and in the Lords – but not the Commons; concern about scrutiny of both Brexit and the pandemic; multiple threats to the Union; preparations for elections throughout Britain, a new Unit project and two new Unit reports.
As 2020 ended, it appeared that UK politics might – as in the US – be entering a new phase. Brexit had dominated the previous five years, at least until COVID-19 came along. But the trade deal between the UK and the EU, reached on 24 December after months of negotiations, and enshrined into UK law in an extraordinary parliamentary sitting six days later, suggested that this debate might at last be put to bed.
The Vote Leave duo of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s de facto chief of staff, and Lee Cain, Number 10 Director of Communications, dramatically left their posts in November. They were widely seen as driving the Johnson government’s initially abrasive style, characterised by confrontation with parliament, the Civil Service, parts of the media, and various basic norms of Britain’s uncodified constitution. The announcement that former civil servant Dan Rosenfield would become the new Number 10 Chief of Staff suggested that a more measured approach might prevail.
Yet indications of fundamental change may prove illusory. Many aspects of the UK’s future relationship with the EU – notably over financial services and long-term arrangements for fishing – are unresolved. Chief Brexit negotiator Lord (David) Frost was recently appointed to Cabinet, highlighting that his job is far from done. Recurring negotiating rounds may become a permanent political feature.Continue reading