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The failure of “good chaps”: are norms and conventions still working in the UK constitution?

The Brexit process saw conflict between different branches of government. So is this a temporary aberration or a deeper problem?

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The norms and conventions of the UK’s uncodified constitution are being pushed to their limits – and sometimes beyond. In the absence of clear legal rules, the constitution relies on a shared understanding of what constitutes good behaviour in public and political life, and trust that people in positions of power will abide by that understanding. The constitutional historian Peter Hennessy describes as this as the “good chaps” theory of UK government.

However, the Brexit process saw conflict between different branches of government – parliament, the government and the courts – while Westminster has been rocked by a recent series of scandals around the behaviour of ministers and MPs.

So is this a temporary aberration or a deeper problem? Is greater codification needed to regulate the behaviour of constitutional actors? Can the UK rely on “good chaps” or is more needed to ensure norms and conventions are followed?

As part of our review of the UK constitution, the Institute for Government and the Bennett Institute for Public Policy hosted a panel of experts to discuss these issues and more:

  • Professor Andrew Blick, Head of the Department of Political Economy and Professor of Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London
  • Dr Catherine Haddon, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government
  • Professor Meg Russell, Professor of British and Comparative Politics and Director of the Constitution Unit at University College London

This event was chaired by Maddy Thimont Jack, Associate Director at the Institute for Government.

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