Published on 3 February 2022
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The Institute for Government and Bennett Institute for Public Policy, Cambridge launch major Review of the UK constitution

Researchers will explore how well the UK constitution is currently working and identify whether and how it may need to be reformed.

The UK’s constitution has been placed under huge strain by Brexit and the pandemic. This has also created an opportunity to reinvigorate UK democracy, restore trust in the political system and improve the way that government works.

This opportunity has prompted the Institute for Government and the University of Cambridge’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy to launch a major joint Review of the UK constitution.

Supported by an expert advisory panel including Baroness (Brenda) Hale, Lord (David) Anderson QC, Robert Buckland QC MP, Sir David Lidington, and Mayor of Liverpool Joanne Anderson, over the next 18 months the IfG/Bennett Institute review will undertake a non-partisan review of the constitution. After publishing a series of reports it will set out a package of constitutional reforms which should be adopted by this and future governments.

A framework for reviewing the UK constitution, the review’s first paper, is published today. It identifies three key power relationships at the heart of the constitution that are currently under strain: between the UK’s political institutions – including the UK government, parliament and the courts; between the devolved nations, regions and Westminster; and between the public and the UK’s political institutions. These will be the three pillars of the review.

Recent years have seen arguments over the standing of constitutional institutions. In 2016, one newspaper labelled judges “enemies of the people”; in 2019, some politicians questioned the legitimacy of what they called a “dead” parliament. Brexit has placed the Union of the UK under increasing strain as politicians attempt to reconcile the UK’s interests with those of the devolved nations. And politicians have challenged the constitutional role of some of its ancient institutions such as the House of Lords and the monarchy.

Without careful inquiry and a clear destination, the next 50 years may well be characterised by continuing constitutional turmoil.

The IfG/Bennett Institute review will consider questions including:

  •  Does the UK constitution rely too heavily upon informal norms and unwritten conventions?
  • Should parliament’s powers be strengthened and if so, how?
  • Does the role of the judiciary in the UK constitution need reform?
  • Does the UK’s model of devolution need to be reformed? And how should England be represented within the devolved union?
  • How can the public be more involved in policy-making?
  • How should standards in public life be upheld?

Bronwen Maddox, Director of the Institute for Government said: “This is the right moment at which to look again at a constitution which is under strain and where improvised answers, perhaps designed to suit the government of the day, can harm the future working of government”

Professor Michael Kenny, co-Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy said: “This Review provides a unique opportunity to take a step back from the crises and controversies that have created major divisions in British political life in recent years, and to look hard at how the UK’s unique constitutional order and its key institutions have stood up to the stresses and strains these have created. This is an important to bring research expertise, critical insight and fresh evidence to bear upon some of the most important constitutional questions of our times.”

Advisory panel members

Lord (David) Anderson KBE QC, crossbench peer and former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool

Dr Halima Begum, Chief Executive of Runnymede Trust

Robert Buckland QC MP, Conservative MP for South Swindon and former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Van DuBose, former investment banker at Goldman Sachs and senior partner at F.E. DuBose & Co

Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist 1993-2006 and co-director of the Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy

Baroness (Brenda) Hale DBE PC QC FBA, crossbench peer and former President of the Supreme Court

Sir David Lidington KBE CBE, former cabinet minister including minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster

Dame Clare Moriarty DCB, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice and former permanent secretary of Defra and DExEU

Baroness (Angela) Smith, Shadow Leader of the House of Lords

Sir David Sterling KCB, former head of the Northern Ireland civil service

Andrew Wilson, founding partner of Charlotte Street Partners, former SNP MSP and chair of the 2018 Sustainable Growth Commission

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

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