The third report of the United Kingdom Constitution Monitoring Group (UKCMG) was published today by the Constitution Society. The UKCMG is an expert group dedicated to monitoring developments in the UK’s unwritten constitution. Their latest report, covering the period from January through July of 2022 identified almost 90 areas where the constitutional norms of the United Kingdom had been degraded or eroded.
The group, which includes former permanent secretaries of the civil service, professors of public law and a former lord chief justice of England and Wales, argues failures to adhere to basic norms of conduct among ministers and civil servants, ill-considered constitutional legislation and attacks on the independence of the judiciary all contributed to a decline in the strength of the UK constitution. While some of the issues identified pre-dated the Johnston administration, the report found that Johnson’s government had frequently exploited and worsened them.
The UKCMG now warns unless action is taken by the new Prime Minister the damage to the constitution could threaten the shape and quality of democracy in the United Kingdom.
The editor of the report, Professor Andrew Blick of the Constitution Society said:
The latest report of the UKCMG has identified several areas of profound concern which have jeopardised the constitutional stability of the United Kingdom. The seven months from January to the end of July of this year saw the exposure and worsening of existing frailties in our constitution. These frailties now offer a serious threat to the strength and shape of UK democracy unless urgent action is taken.
Beyond this, the report identifies a set of serious and interconnected problems involving the constitutional system of the United Kingdom. The report stresses that while important in themselves, these are also a part of a wider context. The challenges faced today by democracy on an international scale are well acknowledged. Alongside authoritarian states and recently emerged democracies, the stability and quality of democracy in a number of long-established liberal states is under strain. The UK is, regrettably, one such state – as evidenced by the tendencies examined in the previous reports of UKCMG. The stakes, therefore, are even higher than they would be if the UK alone faced challenges to its core constitutional principles.
The new report warns that these worrying trends in constitutional degradation will continue unless lessons are learned and the norms of good government are respected and reinforced by proper accountability and oversight.
The departure of Boris Johnson should not, therefore, be an excuse for complacency, the UKCMG emphasise. It should, instead, provide impetus for deep consideration of changes that might serve better to promote and maintain UK constitutional principles. The flawless process for the accession of King Charles as head of state and his explicit emphasis on constitutional principles in his role are encouraging in this respect. The near simultaneous appointment of Liz Truss as Prime Minister following the Conservative leadership election provides the opportunity for a reset of standards in the way the government works and its respect for constitutional norms. The risks are that this will not be a priority or indeed recognised as an issue to be addressed. The Group will return to the approach of the Truss administration in their next report.
The full report may be read at: https://consoc.org.uk/?post_type=publications&p=5268
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