The latest edition of Monitor, the Unit’s regular news update on constitutional issues, was published today. The Brexit vote happened more than five years ago, but many of the the worrying constitutional trends that characterised the years that immediately followed the referendum remain a part of public life. Here, in the lead article from Monitor 79, Unit Director Meg Russell and Deputy Director Alan Renwick express serious concerns about a repeated lack of parliamentary scrutiny, proposed changes to the way elections are overseen and conducted, standards in public life, the proper role of government, and the effect of all four on the perception of our public servants.
Each new issue of Monitor for the last three years has reported on torrid developments in UK constitutional politics. Brexit, the 2019 general election and COVID-19 all raised new and difficult questions about democratic governance and the balance of power between our institutions. As the political dominance of the pandemic fades, and matters tentatively approach something closer to ‘normal’, constitutional controversy nonetheless remains centre stage.
A major question raised in the previous Monitor, and bubbling for some time before that, is whether the UK is witnessing a kind of ‘democratic backsliding’, whereby elected politicians gradually dismantle the checks and balances that constrain their power. The UK government’s legislative programme, and its wider activities as reported in this issue, have done little to soothe those fears. A valuable new online tracker, launched in October by the Public Law Project, allows for systematic exploration of constitutional developments throughout the period of the Johnson government.
The action that achieved greatest cut-through was the government’s extraordinarily ill-judged attempt to change how allegations of misconduct against MPs are dealt with, in response to dissatisfaction with the outcome of a given case – that of Conservative former cabinet minister Owen Paterson. The mechanism proposed for the review – a Commons committee with a government majority – was also entirely inappropriate. The ensuing controversy was still raging as Monitor went to press.Continue reading