8 October 2019
By Martina Bet
Gisela Stuart called for a new constitutional settlement for the UK during an interview with Express.co.uk, while advocating for a straightforward solution – the Act of Union Bill – which would give back a sense of belonging and stress the role of community to the electorate.
Last May, Nigel Farage struck fear into the heart of the British political establishment, as his newly-formed Brexit Party hailed an unprecedented victory in the European elections, gaining as much as 40 percent of the vote in some parts of the country. The eurosceptic party surged to historic wins in the East, North West and South-West of England and Wales. The Liberal Democrats saw a surge in London instead, as they topped the European elections poll in the city as the Conservatives were completely wiped out.
The result did not come as a surprise, as since the 2016 referendum the capital has been seen as a pro-Remain hub, populated by a metropolitan, liberal elite.
The vast majority of English parliamentary constituencies – apart from London – voted to Leave in 2016, arguably showing how political and economic power within England is largely London and city-dominated.
The Leave vote in England has therefore been seen by many as a wake-up call to highlight the difference of opinion between the capital and the country at large.
With devolution in 1997, Parliament granted powers to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The agreement left England as the only country of the United Kingdom without a devolved parliament or assembly, as English affairs are decided unanimously in Westminster.
Although this constitutional grey area has existed for years, the changes brought about by Brexit are likely to highlight it even more.
During an interview with Express.co.uk, former Labour MP and ex-chairman of Vote Leave Gisela Stuart explained why a new constitutional settlement for the UK is now more important than ever.
Ms Stuart is currently campaigning alongside other high-profile politicians in the Constitution Reform Group (CRG) for the Act of Union bill – a blueprint that could resolve this issue, by proposing a federal structure for the continuation of the Union, establishing the principle of self-determination among all four parts.
Ms Stuart explained why an English Parliament is needed, arguing London is not representative of the country.
She said: “London is a capital city as well as a big international city.
“Therefore, it is not entirely representative as much as the rest of the country.
“While we meet in London, it does not necessarily reflect the regions.
“If you are Scottish, the Scottish elite in some sense they meet in Edinburgh.
“Edinburgh with the Parliament, there is a sense of belonging, roots and community there.
“That’s the bit we have got missing in England.
“It is the feeling: ‘Where do we find a collective voice?’
“While London is absolutely magnificent, it is in its structures not sufficient.”
Arguing why now it is very difficult to reform regional services, Ms Stuart added: “You haven’t really got regional government structures anymore.
“The regional government offices were abolished in 2010.
“Therefore, we are struggling to find a new regional set up.
“What I hope this Bill will do is not just have a legal framework, which allows us to end up with better government.
“I want a better government that serves the people who are elected the better.
“But also a process of debate on what we think the structure should be.”
So far, the Bill put forward by the CRG proposes two alternatives for a future governance of England.
A spokeswoman for the CRG said: “The first model is the creation of a directly elected English Parliament to deal with non-central areas.
“The second model provides for a regional devolution option whereby the UK Parliament would continue legislating both on central matters for the UK as a whole and on all matters for England.
“It would put the English Votes for English Laws system on a statutory basis by restriction.”
The CRG steering committee has recently been joined by three former first ministers of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
In a joint letter to The Daily Telegraph, Lord McConnell, Carwyn Jones and Lord Trimble, also called for the new “constitutional settlement”.
The three politicians hope that the Bill will strengthen the case for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remaining in the UK.
The three former first ministers state: “The group was formed before the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, in the belief that, even then, the UK needed a new constitutional settlement.
“The changes in constitutional practice as a result of activities in the House of Commons and cases in the Supreme Court – to take two examples – have further undermined what has been hitherto established practice.
“The events of the last few months have made the need for a new constitutional settlement all the more urgent.”
According to the Telegraph, the backers of the CRG believe the measures used by MPs to seize control of the House of Commons agenda from the Government, together with the Supreme Court ruling on Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament, have made the British constitution more “impenetrable” than before.
The Act of Union Bill is currently awaiting its second reading.
In the meantime, the cross-party group is developing and expanding the clauses within the Bill and welcoming feedback from those interested in contributing.
The Bill would only come into force if approved by a referendum with a majority of votes cast in the UK as a whole at 65 percent and on a majority in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
You can access the full article on The Daily Express website here.