This post has been contributed by Hilaire Barnett, Public law tutor for Undergraduate Laws.
The General Election held on 12th December 2019 resulted in an 80-seat majority for the Conservative government. The principal effect of this is to enable the Government to complete the process of the UK leaving the European Union (Brexit) by the revised date of 31 January 2020. However, there are several other constitutional matters which have been pending for some time but not been accomplished due to the parliamentary and political paralysis caused by the deep divisions over Brexit. Some of these matters may be announced in the Queen’s Speech on Thursday 19th December, others may be brought forward at later dates.
You should look out for proposals relating to the following issues:
- repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011;
- reform of the Human Rights Act 1998;
- implementing the revised constituency boundaries to achieve greater equality in constituency sizes and to reduce the number of seats in the House of Commons to 600;
- introducing the requirement of photo ID evidence before voting;
- establishing a Commission to examine the relationship between Parliament, governments and the courts;
- introducing further restrictions on Judicial Review to avoid what has been seen as a mechanism for frustrating government and creating delays.
The election result has also given rise to renewed questions about the United Kingdom and the prospects of the Union remaining intact over the coming years. In Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 48 of the 59 parliamentary seats, an increase of 13 seats. This has immediately been seized upon by the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, to demand a second referendum on Scottish independence, declaring that the Government had no legitimate right to deny the Scottish people another vote. In Northern Ireland, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on which the former government was forced to rely to get matters through Parliament, now has two fewer seats (8) and — given the size of the Government’s majority — can no longer exert the same influence. Furthermore, the nationalist party Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) combined now have nine seats. Sinn Fein has signalled that it is now prepared to re-enter talks on re-establishing the Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) which has not been sitting since January 2017.
One of the early reforms is expected to be the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. This raises the interesting question of whether or not the royal prerogative of dissolution of Parliament will be revived, or whether dissolution will in future be solely within the control of the Government and Parliament.