Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Sovereign parliament in the UK

Thanks to Susan Ikenberry, who teaches in Washington, D.C., for spotting this analysis. It would be a good teaching tool.

James Hallwood, of the Constitution Society, offers this interpretation of the meaning of Commons' vote to oppose military involvement in Syria. This is domestic sovereignty and it's not the same as the external sovereignty of a country.

The Syria vote was a triumph of parliamentary sovereignty
Commons in session
There are several significant angles to [the] Commons vote on Syria…

[E]asily obscured by the more obvious issues of the day, is a seismic shift in the British constitution, an evolution that has crept up quietly but which serves to empower Parliament and constrain the executive.

While the Prime Minister officially retains the Royal Prerogative to declare war, it is clear that this power is now tempered by the convention that Parliament must vote on the matter beforehand.

The fact that Cameron… has now changed course so dramatically – while retaining the right to declare war - shows that votes like this are not simply rubber stamps but have become a binding convention that can change the foreign policy of a government.

Ironically, by calling an unprecedented vote on Iraq, Tony Blair, the most presidential of prime ministers, set in place an innovation that created a precedent largely devolving 'war powers' from the executive to the legislature.

Frustrating for many, our uncodified constitution is nevertheless pragmatic and far from conventions being ignored (as many fear has increasingly happened) a new one that curtails government power has clearly entrenched itself…

Whether one agrees with the outcome or not, the vote was a reassertion of Parliamentary sovereignty – a message to the executive, but also to the United States, that in the United Kingdom it is with Parliament, not the Prime Minister, that ultimate power resides…

Cameron's… deference to the Commons and his claim to have listened further entrenches the precedent that any future Prime Minister would have to call a similar vote on military action…

The British constitution is something that has grown organically over the last thousand years. It has survived because it has evolved; its imperfections have been mitigated by its flexibility. This latest stage in its evolution has something to say of our present and of our past. It speaks to a country disillusioned with foreign interventions, war-weary and cautious of unknown consequences. But fundamentally it also reasserts an ancient British principle: Parliament is sovereign.

Teaching Comparative blog entries are indexed.

The Second Edition of What You Need to Know: Teaching Tools is now available from the publisher

The Fifth Edition of What You Need to Know is also available from the publisher.

Labels: , , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home