On Monday 9 January, Professor Alison Young gave a lecture at the Centre for British Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin. The lecture title was ‘Brexit and the UK Constitution: Where are we Now? And where are we going?’. She gave an account of the arguments in the recent Supreme Court case of Miller, explaining how the court was deciding whether the Government could use its prerogative powers to leave the EU.
If the Supreme Court decides that the Government cannot use its prerogative porwers, it will have to ask Parliament to give it the power to leave the EU. Also, if legislation was needed, then a further issue was raised as to whether the devolved legislatures should play a role in the enactment of that legislation. During her lecture she also set out the potential impact of the decision on parliamentary sovereignty, the separation of powers, devolution, and the continuing ‘constitutionalisation’ of the UK constitution. In terms of sovereignty, the decision has a potential impact for the relationship between the sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty of parliament. In terms of the separation of powers, the decision will help to determine the relative power of the legislature and the executive, of Parliament and the Government. It also has implications for the role of the court in determining these disputes, where although the court is asking a question of law, its answer has political ramifications. In terms of devolution, there is a challenge to the delicate balance of power between the component nations of the UK, which may threaten the stability of the Union. This is particularly acute in Northern Ireland. In terms of constitutionalisation, the case is a further example of the role of the court in deciding complex constitutional issues. It also illustrates how the nation is becoming more interested in these constitutional issues – some of the challenges were crowd-funded through the internet, there was live-streaming of the case and the use of academics to comment on the arguments before the Supreme Court. The case also generated blog posts, which were referred to in the Supreme Court and were included in the material presented to the court. All of this shows how the Supreme Court is playing a growing role in developing the UK constitution, in taking these decisions and through the Justices of the Supreme Court giving lectures setting out their vision of the UK constitution and how constitutional adjudication occurs in the Supreme Court. This lecture will form the basis of future research on the constitutional implications of Brexit.