The British Constitution after Brexit
The case for popular codification
Josh Simons, Harvard-Kennedy Scholar
The British constitution is under considerable strain. Brexit has drawn attention to the several competing sites of sovereignty within the British constitution and the transformed relationship between the executive and judiciary, fuelling a broader, popular interest in constitutional questions. The UK needs to reach an enduring constitutional settlement. This will require sustained political engagement with proposals for constitutional reform, guided by three underlying principles: the people, not parliament, are the ultimate source of sovereign authority in Britain; the United Kingdom is a voluntary union of nations which requires the ongoing consent of the people of each of its nations; and British democracy must be strengthened, extended, and re-energized.
I argue that Britain should begin a process of codifying parts of the constitution. This process could confront many of the rumbling, structural challenges facing British politics, rather than brushing them under the rug, producing a codified constitution which retained the valuable capacity to adapt and change over time. This process of codification will involve risk, since the outcome cannot be preordained, controlled, legislated for, or determined in court. Embracing the process of codification would require a particular kind of trust in the citizens of the United Kingdom, a willingness to begin a collective journey whose destination cannot be known. Perhaps Brexit will in the end prove to be the beginning of that journey, rather than the end.
Published March 2020, first publication, subject to change