September 18th 2023.
Boris Johnson's tenure as prime minister has had a profound effect on the public's trust in government and the UK's reputation abroad. This was confirmed in a major report by the Institute for Government and Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy, which concluded the UK constitution is in urgent need of reform after successive scandals exposed significant weaknesses in governance.
The review was supported by an advisory board that included former Conservative ministers Sir Robert Buckland and Sir David Lidington, alongside shadow leader of the House of Lords Baroness Smith of Basildon and former Labour Mayor of Liverpool Joanna Anderson.
The authors of the report highlighted the lack of a consolidated written constitution in the UK as a major factor in the government's over-reliance on the 'self-restraint of political actors rather than legal checks'. Boris Johnson's actions as prime minister, such as his handling of the Partygate scandal and the Northern Ireland protocol, were cited as examples of how the bar for conduct in office has been repeatedly pushed.
The authors also warned that these issues come at a time of mounting distrust toward governments around the world, as well as growing polarisation in well-established democracies. To combat this, they recommended setting up a new committee specifically to oversee issues related to the UK constitution, as well as expanding the ability of Parliament to scrutinise proposed legislation, and empowering the civil service to advise on matters of constitutional significance.
Hannah White, director of the Institute for Government, said: 'Our recommendations are intended to ensure that any politician considering changing the UK constitution is supported with robust advice, and to ensure the UK constitution is changed only with appropriate consideration and public support.'
Co-director of the Bennett Institute, Mike Kenny, added there is a ‘growing imperative’ for politicians to ensure that ‘citizens’ deliberations become a regular, integral part of the process of making and examining constitutional change’. The Cabinet Office has said it takes its constitutional role and responsibility seriously, and that there are two parliamentary committees responsible for scrutinising constitutional policy and holding the government accountable.
It is clear from this report that the UK's lack of a consolidated written constitution and the current government's over-reliance on 'self-restraint from political actors rather than legal checks' has had a damaging effect on public trust and the UK's international reputation. It is essential that the government takes this issue seriously and implements the recommendations outlined in the report.
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