Vernon Bogdanor is largely regarded as the UK’s foremost constitutional expert and is a Research Professor at King’s College London. Isabella Pojuner, News Editor at The Beaver, interviewed him on the UK’s current constitutional crisis: Brexit, before the Prime Minister offered up a deal a few weeks ago.
Referendums are good for democracy if not used too frequently as in Switzerland. They require voters to think carefully about particular issues, as they did in 2016. Turnout was higher than in any general election since 1992 since there are no safe seats in a referendum and every vote counts. In a general election, by contrast, many seats, for example seats in the North East, are so safe that there is no incentive to turn out. Elections are decided only in the marginal seats.
There is much more scope, perhaps, for referendums at local level to encourage participation and reverse the decline of local government.
When we leave the EU, we lose the benefit of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which entrenches rights – a much wider range than is in the European Convention – for example, a wide-ranging right to equality, a right to education, healthcare, etc. The Charter is the only element of EU law which is not to be incorporated into British law. That means our rights in future will depend on Parliament. Most other democracies do entrench rights. Are our MPs so much more sensitive to human rights issues that they can be trusted with this important function? I think not!
I hope, therefore, that Brexit becomes a constitutional moment, leading us towards a codified constitution. But I am not over-optimistic!