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Britain’s Difficulties in Enacting a Written Constitution

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On October 14th, 2019, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom delivered a speech in the British Parliament and was rated as a “farce” by Diane Abbott, the spokesperson for the British Labor Party’s internal affairs. This is also a microcosm of the Queen’s recent embarrassing situation.

While the Queen was “forced to be involved in the political whirlpool,” discussions about the British constitutional crisis also came and went one after another. A representative event is the “Parliament Adjournment” event. To break the predicament of “Brexit,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson requested Elizabeth II’s consent on August 28th. He asked the British Parliament to adjourn for five weeks so that parliament members could not pass legislation to prevent Britain from “Brexit” without a deal. On September 24th, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom made a final judgment, ruling that the practice of forcing Parliament to adjourn for five weeks is illegal.

Some analysts believe that the ruling of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom indicates that the United Kingdom, a rare country without a written constitution, will usher in an unusual constitutional moment and an unprecedented political crisis. Anthony Barnett, author and co-founder of the British “Open Democracy” website, pointed out that a series have broken the informal checks and balances in the UK’s unwritten constitution of prime ministers who are eager to change the rules to benefit them. Johnson asked the Queen to “close” The “Parliament” is just the latest of many cases. So, has the British constitution-making moment arrived? At present, the United Kingdom has faced at least three difficulties in enacting a written constitution.

Difficulty 1: the constraints of strong conservative traditions

Britain is one of the rare countries in the world today without a written constitution. British politics can be described as a “patchwork,” a product of constant “repair” in the evolution of history. The British Constitution was not created but only grew naturally and cannot be listed in one or several official documents, nor can it be strictly distinguished by past or present time; it lacks explicit content and a complete system. British Constitution may is divided into two parts: the British constitutional law (jurisprudence, regulations) and the British constitutional code (classic, custom, training, convention). The political system mainly relies on constitutional conventions and traditions to operate. The core ideas of conservatism have three main points:

One is that political issues are essentially religious and moral issues and that human society is an organism rather than a machine. Emphasizing history and tradition, emphasizing the need to maintain continuity with the past, as far as possible to make changes gradually and as far as possible not to disrupt the original normal order, oppose the “logicism” based on the construction of human rationality (that the written constitution is largely based on the construction of human rationality).

The second is to believe that a civilized society needs a hierarchical order. Not against the most fundamental equality before “God” and equality before the law, but the equality of status and status, thinking that the equality of status and status is essentially the slavery of people. The monarchy is a system worthy of preservation because the king embodies the dignity of national power, the long history and the splendor of civilization, and the monarchy can inspire the people’s patriotism.

The third is to believe that traditions, reasonable prejudices, and past customs are inherently reasonable. This conservative tradition is not simply embodied as a kind of political thought, but its essence involves the structure of British social interests and political psychology.

Difficulty 2: Restrictions on the operation mode of traditional political power

Britain’s outstanding contributions to modern human history include at least two items: one is the industrial revolution; the other is creating a modern political system. The modern political system’s biggest breakthrough to the traditional political system is the birth of the “representative institution.” The British Parliament is known as the “mother of the world parliament.” The history of the British political system is reflected a certain extent in the monarch’s history, the aristocratic house, and the lower house competing for legislative power. Although the lower house is increasingly dominant, the monarch’s power and the aristocratic house cannot be ignored.

Johnson applied to the Queen for the mandatory adjournment of Parliament for five weeks, which is another more significant political event of this power struggle. Although today the Queen of England seems to be “pending” Parliament or the prime minister’s decision, the royal family’s status in British politics is much more important than a formality.

Also, Britain used to be the world’s largest colonial empire. After World War II, based on the colonial empire, Britain led the British Commonwealth establishment. In particular, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which the British descendants established, respected England’s Queen as their heads of state. These countries’ capitals were called “Governors” (the British’s highest officials to the colonies during the colonial period).

Formally and psychologically, these countries respect Britain as their “mother country.” The British royal family also has high prestige in these countries. The international status that Britain has today cannot be separated from its political influence in the Commonwealth. To formulate a written constitution, it is also necessary to properly handle the royal family’s status in the new political system structure; otherwise, the British Commonwealth’s dominant position will be greatly affected.

Difficulty 3: British national structure restrictions

If a written constitution is introduced, how will the relationship with the three local bodies in Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland be treated by the British central government? Especially when the voice of independence in Scotland is high, and the status of Northern Ireland is still unstable, this is a high-risk political undertaking, and the UK must carefully weigh it.

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that Johnson’s request for a five-week adjournment of Parliament was illegal. Do not overestimate and over-interpret this. The British Constitution is “the result of thousands of years of courts fighting for private rights. To put it simply, the British Constitution is just a charter created by a magistrate.” This ruling may be just another example of the “charter created by the magistrate.”

The future of the British political system

Judging from the chaotic situation of Britain’s “Brexit,” today’s political system centered on the lower house has revealed its shortcomings. As a so-called democratic country, according to the voting results, the United Kingdom initially supported the referendum “Brexit” more than those who supported “Remain.” In the long “Brexit” tug-of-war, the disputes between the House of Commons’ parties and individual ambitions seem to overwhelm the popular referendum’s results. Some people say that Britain’s “Brexit” is not difficult to negotiate with the EU, but the Parliament’s struggle. Some scholars call this malaise “the abuse of parliamentary democracy by professional politicians.” 

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