- A Vote of No-Confidence in the Government could still trigger a General Election.
- A General Election could be called if a two-thirds majority of the House of Commons called one.
Within two years of become Prime Minister in May 1997, Tony Blair had achieved his aims of devolving power across the United Kingdom:
The Scotland Act, 1998 – This created a Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament (often referred to as Holyrood) is elected using the Additional Member System. The Government is led by the First Minister.
The Government of Wales Act, 1998 – This created a Welsh Assembly and Welsh Executive (it is now called the Welsh Government). The Welsh Assembly is elected using the Additional Member System. The Government is led by the First Minister.
The Northern Ireland Act, 1998 – This created a Northern Irish Assembly and Northern Irish Executive. The Northern Irish Assembly (often referred to as Stormont) is elected using the Single Transferable Vote system. The Northern Irish Executive is co-led by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in a unique ‘power-sharing’ arrangement.
Greater London Authority Act, 1999 – This created a Greater London Assembly and a directly elected London Mayor for Greater London. The Assembly is elected using the Additional Member System.
As part of her accession to the European Economic Community (now the European Union) on 1st of January 1973, Britain agreed to accept the supremacy of European Community Law over UK Law. This was later further confirmed by the Factortame Case of 1989.
Since Britain joined the European Union thousands of EU Directives and Regulations have been implemented into UK Law. Indeed, since the EEC was formed in 1958 it is estimated that there have been over 80,000 items of EU Law, most of which has had to be incorporated into the legal system of the Member States. In Britain, some of this implementation has been done by Primary Legislation (Statute Law). However, most has been done by Secondary Legislation (Statutory Instruments). The statistics below illustrate this:
Source: House of Commons Library
These are both significant figures, especially when it is considered that they only run back to 1993, many Acts of Parliament and Statutory Instruments relating to the EU will predate these. EU Directives and Regulations may be wide-ranging, dealing with issues as diverse as food packaging standards and privacy standards.
What this means is that whilst the question of the ballot paper the June 2016 Referendum was quite straightforward, the complexity of putting into practice its results is hard to comprehend and is also very controversial, due to the Government’s plans to use so-called “Henry VIII Powers”.
The Henry VIII powers are named after the English King who reigned from 1509-1547. In 1539 the Proclamation of the Crown Act was passed. This gave any proclamation by the King the full force of law. In the post-reformation period, Henry VIII wanted to ensure he could quickly quell any Catholic rebellion in England.
Contrary to popular belief, laws are not passed by Parliament alone and never have been. A Law is simply an accepted action that regulates the Government. Therefore, in the UK Law is passed in a variety of ways:
Statute Law – This is law passed by Parliament. As Britain accepts the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, this is the supreme form of Law in the UK.
Common Law – This is also known as ‘Judge Made’ Law. These are legal decisions made in court cases that are then used in future cases, thereby forming legal precedents.
Royal Prerogative – The Prime Minister retains the power to act without the direct consent of Parliament through her use of the Royal Prerogative. These are powers that traditionally belonged to the monarch but are now exercised by Ministers. These are a legacy of absolutist monarchs, like Henry VIII.
Statutory Instruments – Government business is far too complex for every single decision that needs to be made going through the legislative stages of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Therefore, the Government has the power to implement legislation through Statutory Instruments that have been pre-authorised by Parliament.
As outlined previously, Britain’s membership of the European Union is made up of thousands of pieces of legislation, some of it Primary (Statute Law) and some of it Secondary (Statutory Instruments). The job of the Government and Parliament post-Brexit is to decide which of these thousands of pieces of law need integrating into UK Law, which need to be amended to fit into UK law and which should be repealed entirely from UK Law.
To do all of this via Statute Law would be a mammoth task and would tie up Parliament for years to come. The Government therefore propose making many of these changes using the so-called Henry VIII Powers – via Statutory Instrument – not via full parliamentary procedures. This would enable it to be done efficiently and quickly. However, it would also mean it could done without the level of parliamentary scrutiny that many think is necessary. Currently, the Conservatives do not have a majority in Parliament and rely on the support of the DUP in a ‘confidence and supply deal’. Any attempt to circumvent Parliament in implementing Brexit is unlikely to be easily accepted – especially as one of the prime selling points for Brexit was bringing sovereignty back to the UK Parliament.
The issue of the Henry VIII Powers, is a good example of the arguments over the reality of where sovereignty lies in the British political system. Is Parliament truly sovereign, or is there, as Lord Hailsham said, an elective dictatorship?
Until 2009 the highest court in the United Kingdom was the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. This made the House of Lords the highest judicial body in the United Kingdom.
Parliamentary Privilege is an important constitutional convention in the UK. So where does it come from and what does it mean?
A Government is formed in the UK when the Queen invites a member of the House of Commons to form a Government. It is by convention that a Prime Minister comes from the House of Commons and is the leader of the largest party in the House. This is because as Prime Minister they need to be directly accountable to the people’s elected representatives. As such, the last Prime Minister to govern from the House of Lords was the Marquess of Salisbury in 1902.
One of the most important sources of Britain’s uncodified constitution are conventions. These are unwritten agreements which are usually followed. Britain is one of only four countries across the globe with an uncodified constitution. Constitutions from countries in which they are codified are usually formed at the end of a revolutionary period. For example, America’s codified constitution of 1787 was written at the end of the revolutionary war in which America gained independence from Britain. Another example is Russia which implemented a codified constitution in 1993, after the fall of Communism. Unlike these countries, Britain has not had a revolution since the age of enlightenment, during which liberal democracy and constitutionalism became engrained in western thought. Instead, rather than being revolutionary, the UK constitution is evolutionary – more layers have been added through time, rather than undergoing a fundamental restructuring.