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Governing EnglandEnglish Identity and Institutions in a Changing United Kingdom$
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Michael Kenny, Iain McLean, and Akash Paun

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266465

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266465.001.0001

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Sovereignty, Devolution and the English Constitution

Sovereignty, Devolution and the English Constitution

(p.45) 3 Sovereignty, Devolution and the English Constitution
Governing England

Akash Paun

British Academy

This chapter argues that the UK territorial constitution rests upon a profound ambiguity about its central principles. Parliamentary sovereignty remains at the core of how the English understand their constitution. Yet in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, alternative doctrines have flourished, especially since devolution, which conceded the right of each nation to determine its own form of government (popular sovereignty) and established a non-majoritarian system of power-sharing and cross-border governance in (Northern) Ireland. These developments imply that the UK is a voluntary ‘family of nations’ not a unitary state. Yet Westminster has never formally conceded this point and devolution could in theory be reversed by a simple parliamentary majority. Constructive ambiguity has been retained. However, the historic tendency to allow constitutional theory and practice to diverge may be unsustainable in the light of the EU referendum result and the wider mood of English political disaffection that Brexit has tapped into.

Keywords:   parliamentary sovereignty, popular sovereignty, unitary state, devolution, Brexit, constructive ambiguity

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