Boris Johnson

United Kingdom Desperately Needs Written Constitution

The throne has been left defenseless. Not the throne of the Queen in Buckingham Palace, but the throne of power in Downing Street. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland since July of last year, has been hospitalized during his battle with COVID-19.

Prime Minister of UK
UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

His condition deteriorated quickly after being diagnosed on March 26. His tenure as prime minister has been short, but has been one of the most historic in a generation. He has presided over a snap election, which his Conservative Party won in a landslide, then was finally able to pass the Brexit Deal through both houses of Parliament

This came after years of turmoil, which saw the resignation of two Prime Ministers in just four years. David Cameron, who campaigned against Brexit during the 2016 referendum, was left with no choice but to resign, since he had lost respect to govern. 

His successor, Theresa May, made the disastrous decision to call an early election, in hope to increase her majority to secure the passage of her Brexit deal. Unfortunately, she lost her majority, and was forced to form a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to retain power. After multiple failures and a failed vote of no confidence, she offered to resign if it meant getting a deal passed. This stunt only worsened her chances, and forced her to resign unsuccessful.

Unlike most modern states, Britain does not have a codified constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament, court judgments and conventions.

Source: The British Library

Now, during the Brexit process, most of the chaos could have been avoided with a written constitution. The UK operates on an unwritten constitution of principles, which, in summary, is the understanding that what legislation Parliament passes with Royal Assent is the law of the land. As an American, this can be hard to imagine. 

Fast forward to today, the United Kingdom is struggling to maintain continuity of government with the prime minister in the hospital. Johnson has deputized Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, to carry out his orders. However, the UK currently has no direct successor to the Prime Minister. There is no line of succession. This can send the government into a freefall, given that there is the largest pandemic in one hundred years taking lives and forcing the country into lockdown.

In order for any government to maintain continuity of government in almost any circumstances, there should be a written code of law.”

In order for any government to maintain continuity of government in almost any circumstances, there should be a written code of law, which decrees who runs the country in absence of its leader. For the United Kingdom, they not only need a line of succession in their constitution, but also require a clause that certifies that all elections and referendums are automatically law, and that they cannot be delayed, expedited, or nullified. This would have helped reduce the crisis in the Brexit era, since many argued that they should hold a second referendum because the first one was not binding. 

As the son of a woman who grew up in the UK and still has a grandmother living there, I understand the pride and tradition that comes with the precedents set hundreds of years ago. The Crown is a living symbol that vests power to Westminster. Even though the monarch hasn’t exercised control in more than a hundred years, the Queen is still, in name only, the Commander-in-Chief of the UK Armed Forces. The Queen can also call for an early election, as well as expand her roles in foreign affairs. In other words, the Crown can become almost as powerful as an executive, even though it is expected that the Prime Minister carries out these duties.

In order to avoid this ordeal, the UK must write a constitution, that clearly illustrates the boundaries of powers and where power lies in multiple possible situations. If not, the once expansive British Empire could collapse completely. 

By Matthew Bermingham, Guest Writer

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