It is an undeniable truth that a country in possession of a fortune is in need of a written Constitution. The founding fathers of the United States knew that, even the bloody architects of the Soviet Union understood it too. Heck, even a vile place like Tajikistan or Mali has produced a Constitution or two.
But not the UK and this is the crux of the dry legal argument, which is being held in the Supreme Court, as millionaires attempt to stop Brexit. The central question is simple, yet complex; does Parliament, or the People have the last word? You may think that the two are for all purposes the same, but the trouble with one-off Referendums is that that by-pass the will of the House of Commons, and many MPs, and sometimes PMs, don’t like that.
I think the UK needs a written Constitution for three important reasons:
One, Wales, Ulster and Scotland, are already separate states in some ways, and a written document would define that relationship, and the Commonwealth, or Crown Dependencies, in a much clearer way.
Two, any future debate about Parliament taking precedence over any Treaty negotiated by a government, or a Referendum, would be clarified in law. Until a dictatorship took power anyway.
Three, it would help prevent overseas based interests from influencing any UK government by means of bribes, promises, secret trade deals etc. It wouldn’t stop it completely, but defining UK citizens inalienable rights would – in theory – stop another Parliament from enacting laws which stole away those rights. A good example of this is the rendition of UK citizens to the USA or other EU states, without that citizen having the right to insist that a full case for international arrest and trial be heard FIRST in a UK court, before a jury, and held in public not in secret.
A LITTLE HISTORY
First of all, let’s not mention Magna Carta, which was nothing more than a list of demands from disgruntled Lords, Earls and Barons, aggrieved that the King was taking their money and then reneging on the mafia-like deals that had been struck. Ordinary people in 13th century England were slaves, end of. They remained so after Magna Carta.
The next attempt at a Constitution is the most interesting one; the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. In a series of battles Charles I managed to lose the argument over absolute monarchy to Cromwell and his Parliamentarian forces. The result was an ISIS style beheading, to show to all commoners that the Head of State was literally no more. Parliament was now Sovereign.
This was put to the test when James II took the throne and again, the Parliament side won, producing a Bill of Rights in 1689 to re-inforce two important points; no more Catholic monarchs and secondly, that Parliament offers truly free speech, (immunity of prosecution only for MPs of course) and has the exclusive power to raise tax and acts a brake upon the Courts. Power to raise tax was taken from the monarch by the 1689 Bill.
I shall say it again however, the 1689 Act had NO effect upon the lives of ordinary people at the time, who were virtual slaves. It offered no rights to poor citizens. Only those with money could avail themselves of any `rights’ listed in the 1689 Act.
Onwards to the 20th century and some real progress. The only part of the UK which has a written Constitution is Northern Ireland, with the Good Friday Agreement being the basis of a devolved, power sharing Executive. This document is also unique in that it was ratified by two Referendums, both in the Republic, and Ulster, later in 1998. In other words, the Constitution of Northern Ireland had the true consent of the people, not just the executive, law-giving body.
A POSSIBLE CONSTITUTIONAL FRAMEWORK
The Good Friday Agreement makes a good template for a UK Constitution in many ways, because it offers not just basic, and obvious, `human rights’ as agreed over the last century or so in Western nations, but also power sharing, and a right to self determination for a minority community.
This principle is much needed in a divided UK, where London and the South East has nearly all the money, good jobs and political power. It would also enable Scotland and Wales have clearly defined powers, identify areas of co-operation with other regions within the UK, (such as defence, traffic laws, control of infectious disease etc.) plus the right to make a treaty, agreement or trade arrangement with another country, or bloc of member states such as the EU, IF the majority of the population agreed to do so.
That would enable the SNP, or Plaid Cymru, to offer something unique to voters genuinely fed up of being ruled by London.
Things like fixed term parliaments, reducing the number of MPs and defining the powers of city Mayors, or regional assemblies, should be essential components in any Constitution. Hopefully we can all agree on that.
The matter of free speech, which is clearly being curtailed by the UK government, would also be defined in a written Constitution. This needs to be done, as we live in a country where particular religious or specific interest lobby groups take offence at various comments, resulting in jail terms for those who speak out of turn. It’s not good enough that an MP may call someone `zionist jew scum’ or a sand n***er’ in Parliament, but an ordinary citizen may not do so. The same laws on free speech – rights, limits and responsibilities – must apply to ALL citizens. The rich and powerful must not be granted an exemption from prosecution.
This leads naturally to a definition in law of freedom to worship whatever God you choose, or no God at all, and enshrine mutual respect and toleration as a foundation stone of our UK Constitution. Those who call for other worshippers to be killed should know that they are breaking that written law, and violating the rights of others to believe whatever they want.
There is no point in having a written Constitution if the poor are excluded from accessing the rights afforded to them. We see the rich repeatedly buying their way out of trouble, getting away with crimes, whilst the poor suffer the lottery of the UK criminal justice system. Any written document should guarantee legal aid, trial in public – not secret – and the right to a hearing by jury for serious crimes.
The new Constitution should abolish the House of Lords, and replace it with a second elected chamber, based on proportional representation. This would act as a balance against the Commons, where MPs tend to pursue the party line and sometimes not vote with the long term view in mind, or the wider public feeling. The monarch should also be defined as a figurehead, devoid of all powers.
Here is one final detail – it isn’t a perfect solution to the matter of political corruption, but adding a Constitutional clause that any MP, or Upper House member who accepts gifts, jobs, or any sponsorship for themselves, their family or companies they sit upon, shall immediately lose their place in the legislature.
There is much more you could add, but it’s a starting point. The UK truly deserves a written document which sets out the apparatus of the State in clear terms, our rights as equal citizens and guarantees us a chance to a fair trial, the ability to express a view without prosecution, and the right to worship whatever we want; God or Mammon.
If we fail to have a Constitution then one day, we will lose all our rights, and that is the most pressing argument for having something in writing. In the end, it is a much more important document than anything to do with Brexit because it bestows power within the individual, as well as the State.