The EU referendum and some paradoxes of democratic legitimacy

27678701211_6125a9b158_zIn parliamentary democracies referendums generate alternative, competing sources of legitimacy. This has been clearly demonstrated by the EU referendum result, with the public voting to Leave despite a clear parliamentary majority for continued membership. Nat le Roux, Strategy Director of The Constitution Society, discusses this paradox and suggests that it would not be unreasonable for some MPs to choose to vote against the invocation of Article 50.  

In a parliamentary democracy, referendums are potentially destabilising because they generate alternative, competing, sources of democratic legitimacy. A majority of elected representatives may hold one view on a matter of major national importance. If a referendum demonstrates that a majority of the public hold the opposite view, which manifestation of democratic legitimacy should trump the other? Continue reading

What role will parliament have in triggering Article 50 and shaping the terms of Brexit?

13702284943_a43335d328_zConstitutional lawyers have been engaged in a major debate over whether parliamentary authorisation is needed for Article 50 to be triggered and the process of negotiating Brexit to formally begin. In this post, the UCL Constitution Unit’s Robert Hazell and Jack Sheldon move the discussion on, asking how parliament might debate the triggering of Article 50 and, once it has been triggered, what role parliament might play in scrutinising the negotiations that follow.

There has been an outpouring of blog posts discussing whether there is a legal requirement for parliamentary authorisation before the Prime Minister can trigger Article 50 and start the formal negotiations to lead to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. However, it is probable that regardless of the legal position, the political realities will require some form of parliamentary consent. This post moves the discussion on, to ask in what ways parliament might debate the triggering of Article 50, and, once it has been triggered, what role parliament might play in scrutinising the Brexit negotiations that follow. Continue reading

In the event of a Leave vote Brexit would dominate Westminster for years

big-benLord Lisvane, former Clerk of the House of Commons, discusses the impact that a vote to leave the EU would have on Westminster in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, during Brexit negotiations and once Brexit has actually taken place. The UCL European Institute, together with the UCL Constitution Unit, is holding a special series of seminars on the implications and consequences of Brexit. The first, on 21 April, focused on the consequences for Westminster and Whitehall. In this post, adapted from his comments on the night.

The immediate aftermath

After a vote to leave there will be immediate pressure for debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, probably over two days, to be held as soon as possible. There may even be calls for a rare weekend recall, though this is in the Prime Minister’s hands and I think it very unlikely that he would grant one.

David Cameron’s future will, of course, be high on the agenda. He has said that he would stay on as Prime Minister to oversee the consequences of a vote to leave, but there are Conservative MPs who have suggested that he won’t have the opportunity to do that. Might he throw the dice and have a vote of confidence among members of his own party, or would that be too high risk? Continue reading

Improving the EU Referendum Bill: A Contribution from the House of Lords

HoLDavid Hannay, member of the House of Lords and former Ambassador to the EU, reviews the progress of the EU Referendum Bill so far and comments on the amendments made by the House of Lords.

On 1 December the House of Lords gave the Government’s EU Referendum Bill its third reading and returned it in amended form to the House of Commons. There is no reason therefore why the Bill should not be on the statute book by the end of the year, thus clearing the way for an in/out referendum to be held at a time of the Government’s choosing before the end of 2017, more likely some time in 2016. Continue reading

MPs are from Mars, peers are from Venus: Westminster and the EU

big-benIn this post, Dr Julie Smith, Director of the European Centre at Polis at the University of Cambridge and member of the House of Lords, examines how attitudes towards parliamentary scrutiny of EU affairs differs between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. How do other member state parliamentarians balance the local needs of their electorates with those of EU-level governance and are there any lessons to be learned for the UK Parliament in the run-up to the EU referendum?

If you listen to debates on the EU in the two chambers of the British parliament, you could be forgiven for thinking you have landed on two different planets.

In the Commons, plenary debates on Europe are heated and often hostile, with Euroscepticism the order of the day. Few MPs display great insight into matters European but they do express themselves with passion.

Meanwhile in the Lords the vast majority of members are pro-European, with debate harking back to another age when Britain’s membership of the EU was thought to be settled and broadly beneficial. Continue reading