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Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution

UK and EU flag in front of Big Ben

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

Meg's Fellowship focuses on the broad topic of 'Brexit, Parliament and the Constitution'. Within this, the project focuses 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 builds 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 comprises two main elements. The first is to work alongside the UKICE team to facilitate events and up-to-date commentary. The second is to carry out and publish detailed research. As such, outputs from the Fellowship include blogposts, podcasts and media appearances, as well as academic journal articles and detailed reports. Selected examples of each can be found below.

Publications

  • 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

    • An article by Meg Russell in The Times Red Box on 19 January 2021, arguing that 'It's Time for MPs to Take Back Control of the Commons', and introducing our report on the topic (see the publications section above).
    • An appearance on the BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme on 12 October 2020, discussing the government's relationship with its backbenchers.
    • A letter to the Times on 8 June, signed by Meg Russell and a group of other democracy specialists, arguing that the ending of the hybrid House of Commons breached fundamental democratic principles. Available in The Times here, or in an expanded version as an open letter to Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg on our blog here.
    • Meg Russell's appearance on BBC Radio 4's World at One on 14 October 2019, discussing the Queen's Speech.
    • Appearance on a special edition of BBC Radio 4's The Briefing Room on the UK constitution after the Supreme Court ruling, on 26 September 2019.
    • An article in the Guardian on 6 September 2019, about the strains recent Brexit events had put on parliament and the constitution.
    • A widely-shared interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One Programme on 28 August 2019, discussing the recently-announced prorogation.
    • A detailed interview with Meg Russell on the BBC Radio 4 PM Programme on 9 August 2019 discussing what MPs could do to block a 'no deal' Brexit

    Podcasts

    Conferences and events

    • 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 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 is led by Professor Meg Russell, with Lisa James as Research Assistant.

    Key links

    This project is 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