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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Constitutional Issues just keep coming thick and fast

We have already seen how when the PM was sick and off duty The First Minister, who was standing in for The PM, did not meet with the Head of State at the weekly briefing sessions.

We have seen this week that the PM broadcast to the nation before making a Statement in Parliament, and was pulled up by The Speaker for so doing. That he said nothing in his broadcast which was any different to the Statement he made in The House rendered his action even less justified or understandable.

It is of vital importance, especially in times of crisis, that our Governments adhere as closely as possible to constitutional norms. A point very well understood by Churchill and Attlee during The Second World War.

However, these are rather relegated to minor matters now that serious flaws in the devolution legislation, there from the start, have been brought into sharp focus. In constitutional terms it made little legal sense to establish devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Norther Ireland, but not in England. When asked in The House about the divergence from the PM;s position on the easing of lockdown, by the three devolved administrations, he pointedly referred to himself as 'PM of The United Kingdom'. Pressed further on how much of what he said in his broadcast and in his Statement to The House was purely related to England, he rather stumbled.

One clear constitutional issue that must be faced, it seems to me, post pandemic is this very one of establishing a Parliament for England. This needn't be a big issue. Bismarck served post 1871 as both Chancellor of Prussia (the dominant German state) and as Chancellor of Germany. Johnson could likewise serve as both. As for English MPs, they could be those elected in the UK wide election for English seats. And when Parliament sat in Westminster as the English Parliament,, rather than the UK Parliament, then all other MPs, from the devolved nations, would not sit. The PM would sit as PM of England in such circumstances. The position of Cabinet Members representing non English seats would need to be resolved, possibly with a Junior Minister whose seat was in England sitting in The English Parliament.

But, there are many ways in which an English Parliament could be set up. For example it could meet in Manchester rather than London, and it could elect, as in the devolved administrations, a separate group of English MPs and Ministers. In time the UK Parliament would perhaps only meet on a number of limited occasions per year, and have representatives elected from the four devolved Parliaments, with the English PM acting as The UK PM, as now. Other meetings of the UK Parliament could be held online when deemed necessary.

Having a separate English Parliament would naturally require a detailed examination of what limited powers a UK Parliament would retain. Such a proper and full devolution of powers to the four constituent parts of The UK might have the added consequence of preserving The Union between England and Scotland.

What, in my opinion, cannot be allowed to continue is the present muddle, which was created without reference to the English electorate, and purely as a party political act by Blair.

Many of you will disagree, but whatever our individual views I strongly believe that the botched devolution of Blair has been shown up as no longer (if ever) fit for purpose.

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