If talk of the “constitution” leaves you cold, think again because the political crisis blowing up around Brexit can be made into an opportunity for citizens to shape the future in their own interests.
The UK constitution – like any other country’s – is basically a set of rules and laws that lay out the state’s powers over the people.
“They set out the structure of the state, the major state institutions, and the principles governing their relations with each other and with the state’s citizens,” according to University College London’s constitution unit.
In other words, a constitution is about real power and the state’s ability to make decisions that affect the lives of the majority who don’t have that power but, instead, send representatives to Parliament to decide on their behalf.
Joining the European Union was a massive constitutional change for the UK. Parliament transferred much of its sovereignty to Brussels, which strengthened its grip over member states with the creation of the neo-liberal single market.
Laws passed at Westminster became inferior to EU regulations and decisions which took precedence in the courts. The UK, for example, has been bound by EU rules that block giving state aid to industry.
Over 40 years later and Brexit has created a monumental constitutional crisis for the state and an emerging power vacuum.
How so? Because leaving the EU by March 2019 is proving a challenge too far for the UK state, particularly since the minority Tory government is beset with internal conflict and is floundering.
The National Audit Office’s chief auditor says there is no coherent Brexit plan and warned that the government’s approach could collapse “like a chocolate orange”.
Then there is the economy. Being part of the EU single market made the UK a partner in a regional arm of the corporate-driven globalisation project. Creating new trade agreements takes years to negotiate. Add in signs of a global trade war, a new recession and financial crisis and you can see how the Tories are caught.
It gets worse. To make Brexit happen, the Tories plan to incorporate 44 years of
EU legislation, including 19,000 regulations, directives and other stuff, into UK law.
That’s not the half of it. They then propose to give ministers discretionary powers to decide for themselves which laws to keep and which ones to scrap.
So much for the Brexiteers’ pledge to repatriate powers from Brussels to Westminster. This is a plan for rule by decree, bypassing Parliamentary scrutiny along the way.
Already the Welsh and Scottish governments have pledged to oppose the EU repeal bill because it undermines devolution arrangements.
Behind the growing constitutional crisis are decades of a power grab by the major corporations, financial markets and hedge funds who dictate terms and policies to Westminster.
As a result, people are powerless in the face of market-led “solutions”. Grenfell Tower is an all-too horrific result.
Many voted for Brexit in protest at this rampant form of capitalist globalisation. Their hopes are being dashed by a Brexit aimed at shoring up corporate power and putting two fingers up to democracy.
Another Brexit is possible but it has to be a democratic, transparent and citizen-led process to succeed.
The majority should decide how power is distributed, how to end austerity, how economic and financial policy is made, how to sustain the NHS and build affordable housing, protect the environment and end military aggression.
Clearly the present political system – the constitution – is broken in a variety of ways and Brexit has brought the crisis to a head.
Labour supported the idea of a convention on the constitution as part of its recent manifesto, to address the questions of power and sovereignty in the UK. Rather than waiting for another election, Jeremy Corbyn could only benefit by helping to set up a convention now which would set out to remake the UK’s democracy before it collapses altogether.