Parliament Shouldn’t Be Sovereign | Zak Mudie
I consider myself to be somewhat of a traditional conservative, the ideology against ideology, one which favours the logical benefits of a pragmatic approach to a radically ideological one. In that regard I sometimes wonder about our modern institutions, and I question as all pragmatists should, their effectiveness as an institution to the goal they serve. It is because of that I have found a problem with the institution and body that is the British Parliament. In the cautious and pragmatic manner by which all change should come around, I believe the process of reforming Parliament should begin.
We’re living through unprecedented times, and these times have highlighted an issue with our political system which has been growing ever since the Civil War, the power of our Parliament. Parliament holds the position of absolute power within the British Political System, theoretically whoever controls Parliament completely controls the United Kingdom. While there are laws in place surrounding devolution or limitations on power, the issue at hand is these limitations or devolved powers exist until Parliament decides they shouldn’t. No Parliament can bind another Parliament. Absolute power lies in the majority voting system of the House of Commons, the Lords are only able to delay never strike down a motion. The Law, due to our lack of a codified constitution, is malleable and is at the mercy of 650 individuals who have the power to do absolutely anything so long as one side has one more vote than the opposing side. While the Prime Minister seems to wield significant power, and at this present moment they do, it was Parliament who granted this power, and should they decide to remove it today they could. If Parliament wanted, they could suspend any authority of the Prime Minister and make the role symbolic in name.
Understanding real sovereignty, which is what Parliament holds, is to understand that when it comes to authority over the law there is no power above Parliament. This does have its advantages I will admit, with the removal of the EU as a power in the UK, Parliament can truly vote and control the important aspects of the UK such as our trade. More importantly, the people can have more say on any law, instead of those the EU decided for us. Another argument can be made that Parliament is able to respond to crises, and in these times deal with any issue presently facing the British people. This remains the single strongest defence of Parliamentary Sovereignty I have ever attempted to tackle.
The flexibility of Parliament to deal with issues is why at present the government holds the power to suspend liberties at a whim. Here lies an inherent strength and weakness, Parliament can suspend liberties to defeat a national crisis and then more importantly Parliament can suspend civil liberties. It’s a double-edged sword, and one side is far sharper than the other. Parliament’s ability to remove the liberty politicians like to take pride in, shows the fundamental flaw with total Parliamentary sovereignty. I repeat what I have said before, there is no authority above Parliament. To use the works of Giorgio Agamben; Parliament is Inclusively Exclusive. As Sovereign it inclusively is excluded from the law, by being above the law (exclusion) it is in a special state of included within it. At first the paradox is complicated but once it clicks it becomes ever clear the danger of Parliament’s inclusive exclusion. We like to believe that in this country, we are all equal under the law, but to tell the truth, Parliament is not. Parliament is both not within the bounds of the law but also the source of it.
What is the alternative? Separation of Powers. A principle which exists in most modern democracies and has existed successfully in those democracies for a long time. Separation of powers as a system places sovereignty on the group it should be on, the people, and even then, there are limitations. It places fundamental laws and restrictions on the power of government, the legislature and a judicial system. These laws seek to benefit the people, but also protect the people from themselves. If we took time to carefully study the various legal systems around the world, many which have existed for a long time, we could find and create a power system which shares power amongst the executive, the legislature and a judicial system. Parliament could be limited by the Judicial System, which is built upon the law, exercised and enforced by the Executive, constrained by the Judicial System and Parliament. In short, the three-way separation means each keeping the other in check, and allowing for true security against an unrestricted parliament dominated by party politics. The law should be inclusively exclusive from politics, it is what politics is about yet in some regard above politics. That fundamental value is something conservatives, as bastions of the Rule of Law, should seek to conserve more than anything.
At the same time, we have to return to that key argument against my stance, the flexibility of Parliament means being able to counter any issue which arises against the British people. I argue that there can be measures in place to give more power to Parliament, more specifically the executive, to deal with that crisis, however whether these powers should be given or not should be up to the people to decide; furthermore whether Parliament or the executive keeps those powers are not should be up to the people. Here lies a crucial aspect of our pragmatic approach, we need to carefully limit and control the power of Parliament. This should lead to a pragmatic collection of our limitations of Parliament etc to a centralised re-evaluation of the political structure in the UK, culminating in some form of power separation, and perhaps even a codified constitution. What is key is avoiding radicalism, especially liberalism, and applying pragmatism and a cautious approach to our change, in order to maintain the proper functioning of our political system. Time is essential, and it is for this reason we should start this process as soon as possible, so we can implement the right changes before the next crisis gives Parliament an excuse to take more from the people.
If Parliament has no limit, then there is no limit to the damage that can be done to the people, and conserving crucial elements of freedom, alongside protecting institutions from Parliament as well, is essential to conserving the United Kingdom. How can we conserve anything when an institution susceptible to the tyranny of the majority has the power to wipe away everything we hold dear? Parliament as an institution is essential, but the power it wields has already proven to have gone too far. The next step in the slow process of change to conserve is the separation of powers and the removal of Parliamentary Sovereignty.