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 argued recently.
The Constitution Reform Group, convened by former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Salisbury, made 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 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”.