A framework for reviewing the UK constitution

Think tank: Institute for Government

Author(s): Maddy Thimont Jack; Jess Sargeant; Jack Pannell

February 3, 2022

This report from UK think tank the Institute for Government looks at three key power relationships at the heart of the constitution that are currently under strain.

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.

This framework for reviewing the UK constitution, the review’s first paper, 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.