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Unit publishes new Briefing Paper on Brexit and its consequences for Devolution and the Union

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briefing paper 3

On 19 May, the Constitution Unit hosted its third Brexit seminar. Our panellists Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Queen Mary University of London, Professor Jim Gallagher of Nuffield College, Oxford, Professor Cathy Gormley-Heenan, University of Ulster, and Dr Rachel Minto, Cardiff University discussed the impact that Brexit would have on Devolution and the Union. This briefing paper, written by Robert Hazell and Alan Renwick, explores this topic in further depth. It opens by explaining that public opinion is much more pro-EU in Scotland and Northern Ireland than in England and Wales; this creates the possibility of a divided, and divisive, referendum result if the different nations in the UK vote in different ways. The paper then discusses the process of withdrawal, how the devolved nations would be represented during the Brexit negotiations, and whether a vote for Brexit would trigger a second independence referendum in Scotland. It concludes by considering the long term policy consequences of Brexit, in terms of the scope for greater policy differentiation between the different nations of the UK, and the scope for the devolved nations to develop different relationships with the EU.

Meg Russell on Radio 4's Westminster Hour discussing the relationship between the Conservative government and the Lords

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House of Lords

On 22 May Constitution Unit Director Professor Meg Russell appeared on Radio 4's Westminster Hour discussing the relationship between the 2015 Conservative government and the House of Lords during the government's first parliamentary session 2015-16. As documented on our research pages, the government suffered 60 defeats in the Lords in the 2015-16 session. Professor Russell put this in context, explaining that 60 defeats is not out of line with the behaviour of the House of Lords towards previous governments – for example in the 2002-03 session there were 88 defeats (for a full breakdown of defeats by session see here). The difference to the past is that it is a Conservative government facing opposition from the Lords for the first time – prior to 1999, when they were last in power, the Conservatives were stronger in the Lords. Historically it has therefore been Labour governments that have faced such challenges (for a discussion of this key shift in 2015 see here).

Press Release: Scotland, Wales and Ireland point to how governments should be formed in hung Parliaments

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Forming a Govt

In their recent elections Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland all saw the return of a hung Parliament in which no party gained an overall majority. Under their constitutions the first business of the newly elected Parliament is to elect the head of the new government. That is what happened in Ireland on 6 May, and this week in Scotland on 17 May and in Wales on 18 May. In a new report published today by the Constitution Unit at UCL and the Department of Politics at Oxford University the authors suggest that is what should also happen at Westminster. Instead of the Queen having to decide who should be Prime Minister before Parliament meets, the first business of a newly elected House of Commons should be to select the Prime Minister, who would then be formally appointed by the Queen.

Unit publishes new briefing paper on Brexit and its Consequences for the EU’s Political System

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Briefing Paper 2

On 5 May, the Constitution Unit hosted its second Brexit seminar. Our panellists - Kenneth Armstrong, Professor of European Law (Cambridge), Simon Hix, Professor of Political Science (LSE) and Sir Stephen Wall, former UK Permanent Representative to the European Union - discussed the impact that Brexit would have on the EU and its political system.

This briefing paper, written by Oliver Patel and Christine Reh, explores this topic in further depth. Drawing on the seminar, it outlines the UK's contribution to the EU and argues that Brexit would have a significant impact on the EU's political system. In the short-term, British disengagement could undermine initiatives such as TTIP and the Capital Markets Union. In the long-term, Brexit would change the EU’s balance of power.  It is particularly likely to strengthen protectionist forces and social democrats. However, Germany’s position could also be strengthened. It is also likely to undermine the EU's foreign policy ambitions.

The paper is part of a wider project on the UK and the EU. The project consists of a series of seminars, with each seminar followed by a briefing paper and video on the same topic. There are two more seminars and briefing papers, as well as a major debate, prior to the referendum, details of which can be found here.

House of Commons committee backs Meg Russell's evidence on the Strathclyde review and wider Lords reform

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The Strathclyde Review: Statutory Instruments and the power of the House of Lords

A new report from the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) into the Strathclyde review on the House of Lords' powers has strongly supported arguments made in evidence by the Unit's Director Professor Meg Russell.

Meg Russell gives evidence to Italian parliament on mechanisms of executive accountability

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MR - Italian Parliament May 2016

On Wednesday 4 May Professor Meg Russell gave invited oral evidence to a committee of the Italian parliament considering possible reforms to the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) to strengthen executive accountability to parliament. She spoke particularly about the mechanisms of accountability in both chambers of the UK parliament, as well as the general principles of executive accountability and parliamentary power.

The evidence formed part of an inquiry chaired by the Deputy Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Luigi Di Maio, under the auspices of a committee of the parliamentary Bureau. The committee is looking at models of executive accountability, and gathering evidence from several other parliamentary chambers around Europe. Part of the context for this is the possible reform of the Italian Senate, which would remove the Senate from some aspects of executive accountability, suggesting that the role of the chamber of deputies should be strengthened. A referendum on Senate reform is due to take place in October 2016.

The meeting opened with a 15 minute presentation (available here - in Italian) from Professor Russell, followed by questions from the members present. Issues discussed included the powers and functions of select committees, parliamentary questions, treatment of legislation, key differences between the two chambers in terms of executive accountability, the Wright committee reforms and the growing openness of the UK parliament. Professor Russell emphasised the importance of parliament as an open and visible forum of executive accountability, the importance of good quality information – for both members and the wider public – and ways in which some UK mechanisms (such as select committees and the Backbench Business Committee) explicitly encourage cross-party evidence-based working.

Unit publishes briefing paper on Brexit and announces UCL EU referendum debate speakers

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briefing paper 1

On 21 April, the Constitution Unit hosted its first Brexit seminar. Our panellists - Lord Lisvane, former Clerk of the House of Commons, Sir Simon Fraser, former Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office and Professor Hussein Kassim, author of The European Commission of the Twenty-First Century – discussed the impact that Brexit would have on Whitehall and Westminster.

This briefing paper, written by Nicholas Wright and Oliver Patel, explores this topic in further depth. Drawing on the seminar, it asks: what are the immediate political consequences of a vote to leave the EU? What would the withdrawal process entail and how would it impact on Parliament and the civil service? And, what would be the long-term impact of Brexit on Whitehall and Westminster? The evidence indicates that Brexit would have a significant impact on Whitehall and Westminster, especially during the withdrawal process.

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