A UK constitution by the people, for the people

Unlock Democracy’s Director, Alexandra Runswick, wrote to the Financial Times responding to an opinion piece by David Allen Green.

Dear Sir

In his article Brexit tests the British constitution (1 April 2019) David Allen Green argues that the purpose of a constitution is to “identify where there may be tensions between the elements of the state — for example between the executive and parliament or the courts.” This is fine as far as it goes but like the current British constitution the article leaves out the people.

A constitution should also set out what the government can, and more importantly, cannot do in our name. It should set out what forms of redress we have if the government has breached our rights.

In most other countries you can go into a bookshop and ask for a copy of the constitution, in some cases pocket versions are given to school children to help them understand their rights. In the UK the closest we get to this is that you can now buy pocket copies of the Magna Carta. Most people don’t understand what our constitution is and you can’t defend or uphold something you don’t understand. Nor can you hold power to account when you don’t know where it lies.

The fact that the UK has never had a ‘we the people’ moment where the people have been included in the constitution means that the executive can use the idea of popular sovereignty and the will of the people to undermine Parliament and further weaken our constitution. The way out of this deadlock is to have a deliberative citizen-led constitutional convention, similar to the recent one in Ireland.

While the UK generally prides itself on gradual incremental change, that is not where we are now. If we are tearing up the rule-book as we leave the EU and reshaping how we do things abroad, then we should also tear up the rule-book at home and make this as moment of transformative change. For Unlock Democracy, this means a codified constitution written by and for the people, that is fit for a modern democracy.

Alexandra Runswick

Director, Unlock Democracy

The letter was published online.

Sarah ClarkeComment