Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

UK Parliament or Executive: which is top dog in Britain’s constitution?

Boris Johnson is telling all who are willing to listen that he has a mandate from the people to cling to his post as prime minister come what may. This gives him remarkable powers –  to ignore the long established traditions of his party and of Parliament regarding when a prime minister has run out of road and should resign.

Does he have any constitutional justification for his view? There have certainly been questions asked about whether Britain’s “sovereign” Parliament as important – or as sovereign – as we assumed. There can be heard the steady drumbeat of those who think Parliament is a secondary part of the British constitution – and should stand aside to let the Government govern and the Prime Minister have his way.

This is in contrast to, say, the barrister Lord Pannick in the second constitutional case launched by Gina Miller (R (Miller) v The Prime Minister 2019) on Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament. Pannick was at pains to suggest, contrary to the generally held constitutional view, that Parliament (rather than simply laws passed by Parliament) was sovereign and so the Prime Minister’s power to prorogue (end the parliamentary session, dismissing MPs and peers until a new session is called) should be open to judicial oversight regarding the legality of its use, like most actions of the Executive (including those founded in the royal prerogative).  

The argument against Parliament
So the question arises, which is the premier body in the British constitution, which is top dog: the Executive or the Legislature? As it happens, the historian Robert Tombs had answered this question to his own satisfaction in the Times some weeks before Miller in a piece headlined: Parliament has no right to plot a Brexit coup.

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