In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Supreme Court ruling heralds constitutional chaos

Posted by seumasach on January 24, 2017

Cailean Bochanan

24th January, 2017

It is not necessary to read beyond the first sentence of today’s Supreme Court Ruling to arrive at the heart of the matter

“The devolution Acts were passed by Parliament on the assumption that the UK would be a member of the EU, but they do not require the UK to remain a member.”

In other words, one part of the UK constitution can negate another part, in this case the Scottish Parliament and , equally, the settlement with Ireland based on the Good Friday Agreement. Of course, it is reasonable to make constitutional changes but their implications for the overall constitution must be included. In other words, the repeal of Brexit legislation, European Communities Act 1972,  must also formally negate the Scottish and Irish constitutional settlements since that outcome follows logically from Brexit. These issues, of course, should have been to the very forefront of the debates during the referendum campaign so that people would understand that by voting for Brexit they were also voting for the ending of the existing devolutionary arrangements in Scotland and Ireland and the end of the constitutional settlement on these islands as we know it.

Instead, we have muddled inadvertently and in characteristic fashion into the most serious constitutional conflict we have ever faced. The most logical outcome is that we move towards a new constitutional settlement involving an independent Scotland and a United Ireland. But that is not without difficulties and  hardly likely to come about without friction. However, as well as conforming to a certain constitutional logic it also reflects the little remarked fact that the Brexit was essentially an English nationalist vote and  at the heart of the “taking back control” agenda is the desire for a specifically English voice. This was reflected by David Cameron’s support for English votes on English laws on the morning after the Brexit vote. Clearly though the idea of the Westminster parliament acting as both a UK and English parliament is ridiculous.

The reality is that the remain camp have been so busy denouncing Brexit voters as racists and fascists that they have failed to read the central message of the referendum result: those who consider themselves English rather than British were overwhelmingly those who voted for Brexit. They have up to now enjoyed the luxury of waving both the Union Jack and the flag of St George but will surely opt in time for the latter. A nationalist movement in what is overwhelmingly the UK’s largest constituent nation can only radically change the calculus behind the UK constitution. It is now forcing us to confront our incoherent constitutional arrangements: Brexit is a mess that was waiting to happen and now with passions running high and minds becoming befuddled further chaos awaits us.

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