Now Is The Time To Codify A Constitution For Britain

Photograph: 'Gavel' HopeMedia Stock Photography

Few things keep me awake at night. Last Wednesday, it was the upset of losing hope in England bringing back the world cup (coinciding with my tragic loss of a £10 bet on this occurrence). Unfortunately, the future of Britain has also troubled me since June 2016, though I believe I have come to terms with this, finally, aside from one overarching problem. I am always, and genuinely, fearful for the future of rights in the UK. Specifically, our need for a codified and protected constitution, primarily a bill of fundamental rights, has never been higher.

Brexit’s is perhaps the most divisive issue ever to befall British politics. Everyone has their own take on the advantages, or pitfalls, of this leap into political uncertainty. It necessitates that Britain re-write its relationship with the European Union, requiring parliament to legislate on areas of policy that once came under the EU’s purview. This presents an opportunity for discourse that this nation has consistently avoided, with the concept struck down as wholly unnecessary. We have been careering down the river that is Brexit negotiations, past swirling economic rapids and countless political obstacles, only to find out that it culminates in a waterfall. It is time to urgently create a British constitution, in light of the precipice of confusion ahead. Until now, our individual freedoms have been entrenched through our belief in European institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), and through the European Convention on Human rights (ECHR). With our departure from Europe, there is a danger that distance grows, both culturally and socially, and I fear that the risk is a value de-alignment that leaves the citizens of Britain at risk. I understand that membership of the EU is not required to be party to the ECHR convention; however, we will no longer be held to account on our record in the same way we did before our departure. While we may, and likely will maintain respect for institutions, rule-based democracy, and freedom, it is no longer overseen by a supranational organisation that demands it as a base requirement from all of its members. Yet another check is removed, brick by brick as parliament regains its sovereignty, ironically decreasing the protections on individual rights taken for granted in a country without entrenched guarantees upheld by a court system with the power to strike parliaments legislation down.

It is imperative that parliament use the opportunity they now have, this legislative void, to produce measures to limit their own power to rule, with complete sovereignty, over every aspect of British life. Parliaments sovereignty has long been held as sacred, there is no higher power than parliament. No supreme court to provide a judicial review in line with a codified constitution. I understand the argument against me would go along the line of tradition, norms and intricate details that do not require binding legislation. To this, I would reply that this nation only needs one party, a group that is knowledgeable and willing to ignore such customs and the result could be lasting. A norm, typically defined, is something that is usual or standard, thereby suggesting that the possibility for the unusual or anomalous exists hand in hand.

In the past five years, British politics has become more volatile than anyone could have imagined. Are we to assume that our system is still immune to the rapid change associated with a deterioration of individual rights at the hand of the state? I understand it is not sensible to catastrophize. However, I find it terrifying that we could be in a potential position in which the powers of the state are not checked in any considerable way and rights are not enshrined within a process that reduces the ability of whimsical politicians to test policies as they see fit. There are checks of course, it is important not to discount them. The House of Lords has proved itself to be steadfast in its duty of holding the government to account, though it is tragic that I point to a House of unelected elites as the primary source of legitimate checks on the British government. This is not enough. It is easily foreseeable that even this check could be neutralised in a constitutional crisis, something that Britain seems to teeter on the brink of continually.

A constitutional crisis will affect the countries governance, whether it be the formation of the government or the players involved. What it should not touch, is the wellbeing and freedom of its peoples. We have no rights that cannot be taken away by parliament in a majority. One may say that it is not likely, that the public wouldn’t let it happen. However, with growing public apathy, partisan alignment, and fears of potential security threats, such as terrorism or immigration, there is a perfect storm brewing. The storm can be avoided, if the government takes it upon themselves to create a non-partisan bill of rights, avoiding political issues, focusing on merely outlining the political and social freedoms this country currently supplies to all of its citizens. The freedom that allows Britain to be divided on Brexit is taken for granted, our rights have long been on thin ice, it would not take much to crack it.

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OscarJGray 2 Articles
Oscar is a 4th year Political science student at The University of Birmingham who has recently been studying in Sweden. He specialises in Foreign Policy articles, with a focus on Russia and the Middle East.

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