Sunday, 24 November 2019

The Labour Party and the Constitution

The Labour Party manifesto - "It's Time for Real Change" - is a lengthy 107 pages and contains a section on Constitutional Issues (pages 81-85).


The manifesto promises a legally binding "final say" referendum on Brexit and the referendum will have a Remain in the EU option. Labour rules out a "no deal" Brexit which would be harmful to jobs, rights, security and to our NHS." To that end, Labour would "rip up" the withdrawal agreement reached by Prime Minister Johnson and would seek to negotiate a new deal. They oppose
the Johnson deal "precisely because it would do such harm to workers’ rights, environmental protections and to our manufacturing industry."

The deal that Labour would seek will include -

•  A permanent and comprehensive UK-wide customs union,

•  Close alignment with the Single Market

•  Dynamic alignment on workers’ rights, consumer rights and environmental protections

•  Continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes, including in such vital areas of co-operation as the environment, scientific research and culture

•  Clear commitments on future security arrangements, including access to the European Arrest Warrant and shared databases, making people safer at home and abroad
Labour would seek an appropriate transition period to allow businesses and citizens to adapt to any new arrangements.

Labour would ensure that there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and would avoid having a regulatory border "down the Irish Sea."  (The Johnson deal does not avoid such a regulatory border as discussed in this previous post).

The manifesto promises - "Once we have secured this new deal we will put it to a legally binding referendum alongside the option of remaining in the EU."

It was not entirely easy to read the manifesto without thinking about the stance of the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, which is reportedly to be "neutral" during the promised referendum - The Guardian 23 November.  Mr Corbyn is reported as saying - "My role as the Labour prime minister would be to ensure that [a second referendum] is carried out in a fair way, that the offers put are fair, and that I will carry out the result of that referendum. I think this is actually a sensible way forward that actually can bring people together.” It is hardly surprising that this stance has come under political attack given that resolving Brexit is probably the biggest issue in British politics at the moment.


Labour will end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords. The House of Lords Act 1999 removed most of the hereditary peers from the House but, under the so-called Weatherill amendment, 92 were allowed to remain pending agreement on further reform - Parliament - Hereditary Peers removed.  (The 92 inludes the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain). Agreement was not reached on further reform and hereditary peers therefore remain.

Labour would also "work to abolish the House of Lords" in favour of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions.

Renewal of the UK Parliament is to be subject to recommendations made by a UK-wide "Constitutional Convention", led by a "Citizens' Assembly."  The manifesto is short on detail with unanswered questions such as how this mechanism would be established, what the terms of reference would be, what its membership would be and whether members would be appointed or elected, over what timescale would it work, and the processes for implementing or rejecting recommendations. We have seen in recent months how complex constitutional questions can be and reforms can have long-lasting consequences. This points to any constitutional convention having available to it the appropriate legal / constitutional expertise.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 would be repealed because it has "stifled democracy and propped up weak governments." The Act came about during the time of the 2010-15 Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition but has remained in place since. The Act has produced a huge volume of literature and is not entirely without its supporters. For a recent article setting out the pros and cons see UCL Constitution Unit - In defence of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.  If the Act is repealed then it may be necessary for new legislation to address matters such as prorogation and dissolution of Parliament. Possible problems if the Act is repealed are also discussed at Institute for Government 27 November - The FTPA is a bad law - but it should not be replaced with something worse

Labour says that it will retain 650 constituencies and will respond objectively to future, independent boundary reviews. The franchise would be extended to include 16 and 17 year olds and by giving voting rights to "all UK residents."

For Northern Ireland, Labour would "work quickly and tirelessly to secure the return of genuine power-sharing government." This will be an issue for any new UK government. Labour would bring forward and implement a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

For Wales, Labour promises that their Constitutional Convention would include the Welsh government's 20-point plan for the future of the UK.  Further, "none years of Tory cuts have done untold damage and the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales is clear that the justice system is not working for Wales. Labour governments in Wales and Westminster will work together, using the Commissions' report, to put that right."

For Scotland, around £100bn of additional resources are promised over two-terms. (That could be up to 10 years). However, the manifesto clearly states that independence is opposed by Labour because it would be "economically devastating." "Scotland needs the transformative investment coming from a Labour government, not another referendum and not independence."

For England, Labour would "re-establish regional government offices to make central government more attuned to the English regions, to support our regional investments, and to enable the shift of political power away from Westminster."

24 November 2019:

BBC - Labour Party Manifesto 


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