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As Will Hutton says there is merit in a written constitution

Summary:
Will Hutton wishes to blame everything - including, obviously, Brexit - on Britain’s lack of a written constitution. We’ll agree that there can be merits to having it all written down so that the plain man can understand it. By analogy, the Protestant view of the Bible, in the vernacular and anyone can read it, rather than the Catholic where only the elite may do so. Requiring, obviously the intervention of that priesthood to interpret it:It is only unwritten, uncodified understandings that protect the body politic from regressing to government with minimal checks, balances and accountability. They in turn depend upon a political class that, whatever its differences, accepts common rules of the game, especially making sure that any recourse to direct democracy by referendum is firmly

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Will Hutton wishes to blame everything - including, obviously, Brexit - on Britain’s lack of a written constitution. We’ll agree that there can be merits to having it all written down so that the plain man can understand it. By analogy, the Protestant view of the Bible, in the vernacular and anyone can read it, rather than the Catholic where only the elite may do so. Requiring, obviously the intervention of that priesthood to interpret it:

It is only unwritten, uncodified understandings that protect the body politic from regressing to government with minimal checks, balances and accountability. They in turn depend upon a political class that, whatever its differences, accepts common rules of the game, especially making sure that any recourse to direct democracy by referendum is firmly subordinated to rule by parliament.

Quite so Mr. Hutton, quite so. When it’s all written down in plain and simple language then we are not in some miasma of a fog of having to fight the establishment to get something done. The direct word of the people can at least be heard.

It is but one of the many constitutional earthquakes triggered by Brexit whose aftershocks will be felt for decades. Even the character of the referendum itself is testament to our lack of a constitution......What is happening is the culmination of a rightwing coup that has deployed the weakness of Britain’s constitution to drive through toxic, divisive change, the manipulated will of the people trumping representative democracy. .....The citizenry had become disillusioned with the parliamentary process, so that direct democracy seemed more democratic......Last week demonstrated that instead the constitution is fundamental. .....After last week’s events, which enraged the bravest and best in the Tory party, Corbyn has a chance to build on the emerging coalition for legislation and make his offer again, but copper-bottoming it constitutionally as an alternative to Johnson. As interim prime minister, he will exercise no prerogative power, introduce no new policies, wholly respect every constitutional protocol and commit to hold a fully-fledged constitutional convention after the election.

Well, yes, and take that as you wish. But there’s a logical failure in this argument.

EU law beats British, that’s what the European Court of Justice is for. Thus our treaty with, or perhaps creating, the EU is part of our constitution. And it contains this. Article 50. Which opens with:

Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

In so far as we’ve got bits of the constitution written down that’s part of it. Thus what Hutton is really complaining about, that the people, damn them, have decided to exercise their rights under that very written constitution he blames events upon the lack of.

Take Brexit either way you wish but Hutton’s wish for a written constitution in full is one of those things where he might not like getting what he wishes for. For writing down all the rules means that those who don’t like them have both an explanation of them and the target as to how to change them. For example, if Article 50 didn’t exist how could we have had a referendum in the first place?

We agree that plain and simple explanations of the societal rules are important. We just wish to point out that having such might not chime with the desires of those who benefit from our current lack of them.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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