Advantages and disadvantages of the UK constitution

  • Created by: dbrennan
  • Created on: 12-12-18 12:43

Advantages and disadvantages of the UK consitution


  • Adaptable: organic and malleable to reflect the circumstances of the time period. Being uncodified enables it to be pragmatically reformed without the need of Parliamentary super-majorities or approval by means of referendum.
  • Creates a strong government: traditional constitution provides for strong and effective government through the executive having day-to-day power resides de facto. This is because the electorate have elected in the cabinet and therefore the executive, this branch of government exercises significant power over the legislative process in the Commons.
  • Accountable: The government is accountable to both Parliament, which scrutinises it, and the wider-electorate. In a general election that operates under a two-party system, voters will choose between alternative governments and the unpopular one will pay the price at the polls.
  • Example of being adaptable: through Constitutional reform (Under Blair and Brown government: A Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were established in 1999, Northern Ireland Assembly (1998, part of the Good Friday Agreement), Human Rights Act (1998), All but 92 hereditary peers lost their right to sit and vote in the Lords (1991), the Freedom of Information Act (2000) and 2005 Constitutional Reform Act: the creation of the Supreme Court (2009).
  • Example of adaptability: Under Cameron and Clegg government: during the 2010-1015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Clegg and Cameron wanted to introduce the 55 per cent rule whereby governments would have to resign if they were defeated by a vote of no confidence with a majority of 55% in the Commons. However, Conservative backbenchers did not allow this to happen as they worried about the rewriting of the Constitution and their own role within government.
  • Constitutional reform since 1997: New Labour (1997-2010): promised Modernisation, Democratisation,  Decentralisation and Rights
  • Modernisation: Government institutions needed urgent reform.
  • Democratisation: Increase political participation through frequent use of referendums and electoral reform.
  • Decentralisation: decision-making powers would be given to the newly-devolved assemblies  with their local government role being enhanced.
  • Rights: rights of citizens would be better safeguarded and strengthened.
  • Did the constitutional reforms take place: Most of the reforms above were introduced in the first Blairite administration of government (1997 to 2001) but the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 followed in later years which brought about significant changes to the UK judiciary. During Gordon's government (2007-2010), Constitutional reform was an early priority of his but little took place due to the global economic crisis .


  • Outdated and undemocratic: key elements of UK common law, including the royal prerogative, date back to medieval times as well as the unelected House of Lords which dates back to the pre-democratic era. The hereditary principle of the UK constitution is hard to justify in a liberal-democratic state.
  • Concentration of power: too much power is concentrated into central government with few safety features that prevent arbitrary exercise of state power. Because the UK has Parliamentary sovereignty and an uncodified constitution, key aspects of the rule of law remain unprotected. For example, a government with a strong majority in the Commons has the power to push through legislation which may or may not undermine civil liberties and weaken the power of other government institutions. This is called an 'elective dictatorship' (Lord Hailsham).
  • Lack of clarity: Uncodified means that the UK Constitution is unclear and more open to interpretation by government bodies, e.g the Judiciary. It is difficult to prove that a government has acted unconstitutionally. The government can use its power to push through Acts of Parliament which overturn unfavourable rulings in the Court. Therefore the rights and responsabilites of citizens are poorly defined and entrenched in the Constitution, creating more loopholes for an elective dictatorship.
  • Brexit and the Constitution:
  • -Once the UK leaves the EU, EU law will no longer be one of the 4 principles of the Constitution, if the negotiations between UK and Brussels ensure that the EU has no influence or holds any responsibility for the UK.
  • -EU law is the only source of the Constitution that, when in an event of conflict, prevails over statute law (making EU law, in this case, 'higher law').
  • -When the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, Parliament will regain its  legal sovereignty that it lost when it became a member of the EC in 1973.
  • -The process of Brexit means that article 50 of the Constitution has to be triggered, which entails 2 years of negotiations between the UK and the EU.
  • In the 2016 Brexit referendum: the electorate voted 'Leave' which gave the government a moral mandate to withdraw its membership from the EU. However, the referendum failed to provide a legal mandate for Brexit because it was advisory, not binding. The legislation that established the EU referendum failed to stipulate what the government should do in the event of 'Leave' outcome. Therefore, the government only has Parliament which has the legal authority to execute Brexit. In March 2017, a Parliamentary vote triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union. In a separate process, the 'Great Repeal Bill' will be passed which ends the authority of EU law. As well as the European Committees Act of 1972 which will also be repealed. Before Brexit takes effect, Parliamentary debate has to take place to approve the terms of a final deal of negotiations with Brussels. (11/12/18: 48 Conservative MPs wrote letters claiming that had lost confidence in Theresa May for her Brexit negotiations (15% of her own party). If May loses in the secret ballot, there will be a leadership election and she will not be allowed to run.


A constitution is a body or framework of rules which constrains and checks government. Historically, Constitutions have held the incentive to be written in order to prevent the rule of absolute monarchs: US Constitution 1787, the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen in 1789 and the UK Bill of Rights in 1689. The British Constitutional framework is constructed by 4 underlying principles: Parliamentary sovereignty, Constitutional monarchy, the Rule of Law, EU membership and Parliamentary government.  just as they make rules for society through the legislative process. 


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