Please note: that while each nation is to have complete home rule for some reason England is still threatened with partition.
Exclusive: Proposed constitutional reform would give each nation and region of the UK full sovereignty over its own affairs
Martin Kettle – The Guardian
Sunday 10 July 2016 14.54 BST Last modified on Monday 11 July 2016 12.03 BST
The governance of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be reinvented within a new voluntary union in a bid to save the UK from disintegration, an independent all-party group of experts will argue this week.
The Constitution Reform Group, convened by former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Salisbury, is to make the the case for radical constitutional change in the UK by claiming the need has been boosted by the vote to leave the European Union.
Their proposals say the existing union should be replaced with fully devolved government in each part of the UK, with each given full sovereignty over its own affairs. The Westminster parliament, the group says, should then be reduced to 146 MPs. The individual nations and regions of the UK would then be encouraged to pool sovereignty to cover the matters they wish to be dealt with on a shared basis.
The proposals say they “start from the position that each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a unit that both can and should determine its own affairs to the extent that it considers it should; but that each unit should also be free to choose to share, through an efficient and effective United Kingdom, functions which are more effectively exercised on a shared basis.”
The new construction suggests a complete reversal of the UK’s current constitutional arrangement, in which all sovereignty formally rests in the centre and is then devolved to regions on a piecemeal basis.
“The time for radical change has come. This country needs a new act of union,” Salisbury told the Guardian. “We are in a different world following the Brexit vote. The top-down, ad hoc approach to the structure of the United Kingdom needs to be replaced. We believe that our approach based on consent will provide a stronger union than the one that we now have and which is under challenge.”
The Constitution Reform Group includes the former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Labour Northern Ireland and Wales secretary Peter Hain, the former clerk of the House of Commons Lord Lisvane, and the former Ulster Unionist politician David Burnside.
The group claims it has the support of former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major, and from the current chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Graham Brady. Both senior backers are significant as the Conservative party, which is so dominant in England, has often been reluctant to embrace new constitutional thinking about the union, especially if it involves federalism.
The Salisbury group’s proposals have been drafted into an Act of Union bill which is due for publication this week and will be put forward as a basis for discussion.
The group hopes that debate on its proposals would allow the draft bill to be refined and improved and acquire a degree of consent that would enable a future government to secure its parliamentary passage. If adopted, the new Act of Union would come into force only if passed within 14 months by a UK-wide referendum and by majorities in each of the four component nations.
The group proposes that the shared UK functions would include the monarchy as head of state, foreign affairs, defence, national security, immigration, international treaties, human rights, the supreme court, a single currency, a central bank function, financial services regulation, income and corporation tax powers, and the civil service.
Other functions of the existing UK would be controlled by the nations and regions, creating what would in effect be a sovereignty-max solution to the national question in the UK, similar in effect to the “devo-max” proposal that has often been canvassed in Scotland.
The group says its bill “aims to preserve and codify the most important and successful features of the present system, such as the notion of mutual support and shared rights and values”.
Two key questions remain unresolved, on which the Salisbury group offers alternatives. The government of England would either involve a directly elected English parliament or a continuation of the current evolution towards self-governing English city-regions. There is no proposal for the creation of English regions.
The other unresolved question is the shape, size and future of the UK parliament. Under one version, the House of Lords would be abolished and a Commons consisting of 146 MPs would be the main legislative chamber. A new, second chamber comprising delegates from the English, Scottish and Welsh parliaments and from the Northern Ireland assembly would be created. Under the alternative, the Lords would be reduced to 400 members, with 75% directly elected on a federal basis and the rest appointed.
Members of the group have made clear they are partly motivated by limiting the momentum towards Scottish independence following the 23 June vote to leave the European Union. “It would pull the rug from under independence,” said Lord Hain, while Salisbury argued his proposals would hand the initiative back to unionists.
Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in favour of remaining in the EU.