Alison L. Young

Document Type



The UK Constitution has recently witnessed upheaval, most of it relating to the UK’s exit from the European Union and its consequences. The Constitution seems to be being pulled in opposite directions across three specific axes: the extent to which courts can control acts of the Government and determine constitutional issues; whether the UK Constitution rests on parliamentary or popular sovereignty; and whether the balance of power in Westminster belongs to the Government or to Parliament. This Essay argues that recent events illustrate the problems of informal constitutional reform. Changes appear to be made on an ad hoc basis to resolve specific issues rather than being based on a specific longterm design for the constitution. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, for example, was enacted to facilitate a coalition Government, but was then applied to a minority Government which had to enact decisions on which there was little political consensus, leading to calls for its repeal when its provisions appeared to create a political impasse. The growing role of the UK courts has been called into question, with two recent independent reviews. This, in turn, has led to a lack of legal certainty, as well as a growing lack of legitimacy as these reforms take place in court decisions, or through quickly-enacted legislation, with little if any broader mandate from citizens. Whilst this may not be resolved by the enactment of a written constitution, it does question whether the UK Constitution is fit for purpose and whether more needs to be done to differentiate constitutional from legislative change.