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Insight paper

In defence of the UK’s unwritten political constitution

The UK constitution has been under pressure in recent years, but it is not broken or in disarray, writes guest author Brian Christopher Jones.

Brian Christopher Jones
The Magna Carta
The Magna Carta

This guest paper argues that the UK constitution is working just as good as, or perhaps even better than, many written constitutions around the world. This is true when looking at problems that are international in scope, such as populism and coronavirus, but also when assessing more domestic problems, such as deposing problematic leaders and handling major constitutional change.

But there are many who would like to change the UK constitution into something completely different. The most common solution offered is to move from the current unwritten constitution based on parliamentary supremacy to a written constitution based on constitutional supremacy. Doing this would align the UK with the vast majority of states around the world that use a fundamental written text – a Constitution – that sits above ordinary statutory law. The UK does not have such a text, but the idea is increasingly seeping into the public consciousness. Discussion and advocacy for such a document come not just from constitutional reformers in the academy  and in non-governmental organisations, but also can be found in newspapers, magazines and a variety of new media.

While some of the mechanics and merits of incorporating a written constitution are evaluated below, this paper argues that a move to constitutional supremacy would be a significant mistake.

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