The latest issue of Monitor, the Constitution Unit’s regular newsletter, was published today. When the previous issue came out in November, the lack of a withdrawal agreement was a cause of great uncertainty. Four months later, a deal has been reached with the EU, but it has failed to gain parliamentary support and what will happen on 29 March remains an open question. As our editorial team says below, the current crisis is testing our constitution on multiple fronts and the strain is starting to show. This post is the opening article from Monitor 71; you can download the full issue (as well as past editions) here.
This Monitor appears less than three weeks before the date set for the UK to leave the European Union. Remarkably, the form that Brexit will take – indeed, whether it will happen at all – remains highly uncertain. The coming days and weeks will be crucial in determining the UK’s future direction. Brexit has placed the UK’s political and constitutional system under great strain. That is partly because it is so contested – dividing the main parties internally and risking alienation between the popular majority who backed Leave in 2016 and the parliamentary majority who opposed it. The 2017 general election added to these challenges by resulting in a minority government. Meanwhile, the political task is immensely complex and the stakes exceptionally high.
This strain has manifested itself in numerous ways. The Independent Group (TIG), created on 18 February (see page 12) and currently including 11 former Labour and Conservative MPs, is the largest breakaway from the main parties since the ‘Gang of Four’ founded the Council for Social Democracy – precursor to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) – in 1981. Labour disquiet is widespread, and Deputy Leader Tom Watson has proposed an intra-party grouping of social democrats to stem further defections. The Conservatives have their own party-within-a-party, in the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group. After many false starts, it forced a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s leadership of the party in December, which she won by 200 votes to 117. Continue reading