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Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution

A programme of research and commentary on the principles of democracy in the UK constitution, parliament's influence over Brexit, and the implications of these developments for parliamentary reform.

UK and EU flag in front of Big Ben

Key outputs

This project was funded through Constitution Unit Director Meg Russell's Senior Fellowship with the ESRC-funded UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) programme, which ran for three years, from June 2019 to May 2022. Meg was one of nine such Senior Fellows focused on a variety of Brexit-related fields.

Meg's Fellowship focused on the broad topic of 'Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution'. Within this, the project focused on three main topics: 

  • The relationship and tensions between principles of direct and representative democracy in the UK constitution.
  • The extent and shape of parliament’s influence over the Brexit process.
  • What the Brexit process has told us about the need for possible future parliamentary reforms.

This work built on various previous projects conducted by Meg Russell, including the Independent Commission on Referendums, her work on the policy impact of the Westminster parliament, and multiple projects on parliamentary reform, including the project on parliament’s control of its own agenda that helped lay the groundwork for the 2009 recommendations by the ‘Wright committee’.

The Fellowship comprised two main elements. The first was to work alongside the UKICE team to facilitate events and up-to-date commentary. The second was to carry out and publish detailed research. As such, outputs from the Fellowship included blogposts, podcasts and media appearances, as well as academic journal articles and detailed reports. Selected examples of each can be found below.

Publications

  • Parliamentary Influence on Brexit Legislation, 2017-19, by Thomas Fleming and Lisa James, published in Parliamentary Affairs in June 2022. This article analyses parliament's influence on the Brexit legislation of 2017-19.
  • Chapters by Meg Russell, on 'Government-Parliament Relations', and Lisa James, on 'Public Appointments', in UK in a Changing Europe's March 2022 report 'Constitution and Governance in the UK'.
  • Taking Back Control: Why the House of Commons Should Govern its Own Time - published in January 2021. This report by Meg Russell and Dr Daniel Gover, honorary Research Fellow at the Constitution Unit, addresses why MPs lack control of their own institution, the problems this causes, and what should be done. This report was published in collaboration with UK in a Changing Europe. 
  • A chapter on parliament by Meg Russell, in UK in a Changing Europe's January 2021 report 'Brexit and Beyond'.
  • A chapter on legislation, by Meg Russell and Lisa James, in UK in a Changing Europe's September 2020 report 'What Would No Deal Mean?'
  • Brexit and Parliament: The Anatomy of a Perfect Storm - published, free to access, in Parliamentary Affairs in June 2020. In this article, Meg Russell charts the stages of parliament’s Brexit ‘perfect storm’, tracing its causes to four factors: the design of the referendum, a period of (unfamiliar) minority government, deeply divided political parties, and the weakness of parliamentary rules in facilitating a solution. In the end, the Brexit argument was primarily one inside the Conservative Party, but parliament got the blame.
  •  - published jointly with UK in a Changing Europe and the University of Leicester in March 2020. This report analyses parliament’s role in the Brexit process to date, and asks what changes may be needed to ensure that parliament is ready for phase two of the negotiations and beyond. It includes chapters authored by Meg Russell and Lisa James.  
  • A chapter on parliament by Meg Russell in UK in a Changing Europe's February 2020 report 'Brexit: what next?'.
  • The Mechanics of a Further Referendum on Brexit Revisited: Questions for the New Parliament - published in December 2019. This report examines the scenarios under which a further referendum on Brexit might take place - depending on the outcome of the 2019 general election, unknown at the time of publication - and the key questions its designers would face.

Blog posts

All of Meg Russell's blog posts can be found on the Constitution Unit blog, with many also available on the UK in a Changing Europe website. Selected posts include:

    Media

    Podcasts

    Conferences and events

    • On 7 June 2022, Meg Russell spoke at a UK in a Changing Europe event on 'The future of parliamentary treaty scrutiny'. A video is available here.
    • On 29 March 2022, Meg Russell spoke at a UK in a Changing Europe conference on 'Constitution and Governance in the UK', as part of a panel discussing 'Can - and should - parliament take back control from the executive?'. A video is available here.
    • On 10 March 2022, Meg Russell spoke at an Institute for Government/Bennett Institute for Public Policy event on 'The Failure of "Good Chaps": Are Norms and Conventions Still Working in the UK Constitution?'. A video is available here.
    • On 20 January 2022, Meg Russell spoke at a Keele World Affairs Council event on the topic of 'Lords Reform'. A video is available by signing up to the Keele World Affairs Council here.
    • On 13 January 2022, Meg Russell chaired a Constitution Unit event titled 'What Can Be Done About the House of Lords?'. A video is available here.
    • On 1 December 2021, Meg Russell chaired a Constitution Unit event titled 'Riding the Populist Wave: The UK Conservatives and the Constitution'. A video is available here.
    • On 12 November 2021, Meg Russell chaired a Constitution Unit event on 'Improving Standards of Conduct in Public Life'. A video is available here.
    • On 21 October 2021, Meg Russell spoke at a Mishcon de Reya event on the 'Expansion of Executive Power'. A highlights video is available here.
    • On 20 October 2021, Meg Russell appeared on a Cambridge Law Faculty panel, discussing 'Who's in charge of the Westminster Parliament?'. A short talk produced before the event is available here, and the full panel discussion here.
    • On 17 and 18 June 2021, the Constitution Unit, the Department of Politics & International Relations at the University of Oxford and UK in a Changing Europe (UKICE) jointly organised a conference on 'Johnson's Constitutional Reform Agenda', bringing together academics and practitioners to discuss the government's progress to date, and what might lie ahead. Video and audio of all the conference sessions - including sessions at which Meg Russell spoke, or which she chaired - can be found here.
    • On 16 June 2021, Meg Russell spoke at a joint Political Studies Association and UK Parliament Education and Engagement Service event on the topic 'House of Lords: Scrutiny...and reform?'
    • On 19 May 2021, Meg Russell appeared on a UK in a Changing Europe panel, discussing the topic 'Can the Constitution Hold?'.
    • On 29 April 2021, Meg Russell chaired a Constitution Unit event on 'Regulating Public Appointments'. A video is available here.
    • On 15 March 2021, Meg Russell appeared on a panel for the Aspen Institute, discussing 'The Future of the House of Lords'.
    • On 21 January 2021, Meg Russell appeared on a UK in a Changing Europe panel, discussing the topic of 'Boris Johnson and Parliament'.
    • Meg Russell chaired a Constitution Unit/UCL Political Science discussion on Populism and the Rise of Authoritarianism, on 3 December 2020, with Anne Applebaum, Nadia Urbinati and Rory Stewart.
    • On 24 November 2020, Meg Russell appeared on a panel for the Mile End Institute, alongside Baroness Grey-Thompson and Lord Norton of Louth, discussing the topic of 'Reforming the House of Lords'. The full video can be found here: Meg's talk begins at 44:08.
    • On 18 November 2020, Meg Russell appeared on the final panel of the 2020 Oxford Putney debates, which were on the topic of parliamentary sovereignty. A video of the final panel, on the topic of 'Parliamentary Sovereignty in Perspective', can be found here, with Meg's remarks starting at 08:17.
    • Meg Russell appeared on a panel for the PSA Parliaments Annual Conference, on 11 November 2020, discussing the impact of COVID-19 on parliaments. A video of Meg's talk can be found here.
    • The Unit partnered with UK in a Changing Europe to hold a conference on 10 March 2020 on the topic of Parliament and Brexit - including a panel on parliament's place in the constitution which featured Meg Russell. See here for more details, including links for videos of the conference panels.
    • A panel discussion of Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution at UCL's It's All Academic Festival on 5 October 2019.
    • A conference held on 15 July 2019 on 'Brexit and the Constitution' - watch a video of Meg Russell's panel at the conference.

    Select committee and similar appearances

    • Invited oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee on 21 April 2022 on the Coronavirus pandemic and parliaments. A transcript is available here.
    • Invited oral evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 6 October 2020 on the prospects for the government's proposed Commission on the Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights, summarised here.
    • Invited oral evidence to the House of Commons Procedure Committee on 8 July 2020, on Commons procedure during the pandemic. Our summary, including links to the full evidence session and other relevant resources, is here.
    • Invited oral evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee on 24 June 2020, on parliament's workings during the coronavirus pandemic. Find our summary, including a link to the full evidence session, here.
    • Meg Russell's expert evidence to a committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 29 May 2020, on how parliaments have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, summarised here.
    • Meg Russell's evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on prorogation and the Supreme Court judgment on 8 October 2019.
    • Evidence to the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee on prospects for a further Brexit referendum on 24 July 2019.

    Key people

    The project was led by Professor Meg Russell, with Lisa James as Research Assistant.

    Key links

    This project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s UK in a Changing Europe initiative.

    UK in a Changing Europe
     
    Economic and Social Research Council logo