Mile End Institute

Can the UK survive without changing its constitution?

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2 March 2015

Time: 6:30pm


David Davis MP, former shadow Home Secretary and senior backbench Conservative MP
Lord Peter Hennessy, Atlee Professor of Contemporary History, Queen Mary University London, crossbench peer and renowned constitutional expert
Baroness Onora O'Neill, Chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, philosopher and crossbench peer
Carolyn Quinn (chair), presenter the Westminster Hour, BBC Radio 4

Professor Mike Kenny, Director of the Mile End Institute launched the new centre and outlined its mission to deepen and challenge public understanding of politics and governance.

Watch Professor Mike Kenny.

The debate on the constitution ranged over the issues of Scottish independence, English votes for English laws, devolution and proportional representation.

Lord Hennessy warned the United Kingdom as we know it may not survive the next decade and is “no longer a fixed map in the collective UK mind”.

“I’m a natural optimist but I do carry one semi-nightmare scenario in my head. In 2017, or thereabouts, we squeak out of Europe. The Scottish question will then reopen, because Scotland will almost certainly vote to stay in. Scotland will very likely have an SNP majority government after the elections to Holyrood, and the Scottish government will say ‘we need another Edinburgh agreement, the deal is off’. So, in September 2022, Scotland leaves.

“In ten years’ time we could be out of the EU, shorn of Scotland, narrow, shrivelled, resentful, and inward-looking in the cold northern seas. Not a happy picture”.

Watch Lord Hennessy's opening remarks.

David Davis argued that on English Votes for English Laws (EVEL), “we have led ourselves into incredibly difficult circumstances”.

“What we should be arguing for on EVEL is something that’s clear cut, but yet again we’re looking at a fudge. What Hague has proposed as his favoured option, gives the amendment rights and some of the voting rights to English members of parliament if it’s an English issue, but then it comes back to the UK parliament again - and they’ve got to decide on the final outcome. The moment there’s a distinction between the UK group in parliament and the English group, you’re going to have another schism”

Watch David Davis' opening remarks.

Baroness Onora O’Neill called for “a proper constitutional convention, with due seriousness, care and a lack of populism, to look at these issues”.

“What we need is something that is workable, fair, a coherent allocation of powers and duties, equality of citizenship – for example the right of appeal to the Supreme Court, a single passport, currency, borders, defence, and so on – and greater visibility of financial flows. I think subsidies from one part of the country to the other are absolutely fine, but they need to be for clear reasons, not by a formula that creates automatic privilege for some groups and some regions.”

Watch Baroness Onora O'Neill's opening remarks.