Five Unchecks and Imbalances – a catalogue of Boris Johnson’s ongoing assault on constitutionalism

29th June 2021

Every so often someone posts or tweets a succinct summary of the direness of a predicament.

And yesterday the Guardian live blog managed to put all the following into a single blog update:

None of these are a check or balance in the classic constitutional sense, such as the judiciary or parliament as a whole (though, of course, the speaker is one of the five).

And if only one of these example were sidelines, one could dismiss it as part of the rough tumbles of practical politics.

But taking all five together, there is a trend that should concern anyone – apart from the hyper-partisan supporters of the government.

Each example tells of the lack of constitutional self-restraint that that is the stuff of constitutionalism.

(Constitutionalism being the view that there are political rules and norms that have priority over partisan advantage.)

And these five examples are in addition to the disregard the prime minister has to the checks and balances in the classic constitutional sense: the judiciary, parliament, the independent civil service and diplomatic corps.

This is not – yet – a constitutional crisis, for as the two Miller cases and the Benn Act show, it is still possible for other elements of the constitution to ultimately assert themselves.

But is certainly all part of an ongoing assault on constitutionalism.


Please support this blog – and please do not assume it can keep going without support.

If you value this daily, free-to-read and independent legal and policy commentary for you and others please do support through the Paypal box above, or become a Patreon subscriber.


You can also subscribe for each post to be sent by email at the subscription box above (on an internet browser) or on a pulldown list (on mobile).


Comments Policy

This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.

Comments are welcome, but they are pre-moderated.

Comments will not be published if irksome.


8 thoughts on “Five Unchecks and Imbalances – a catalogue of Boris Johnson’s ongoing assault on constitutionalism”

  1. It is difficult to argue against any of this. It is certainly very unusual for the UK to have a PM who does not consider that “normal” standards apply to him. And while he continues to “get away” with breaches he will become bolder to scrap any restraining influences there might be. It must be, or should be, of concern to the citizens of this green and pleasant land, of whatever political persuasion.

    1. He’s a keen student of populist politicians, and learned well fromTrump’s trampling of the US constitution what he might get away with.

  2. May be not a constitutional crisis, but symptoms of constitutional weakness. An unwritten constitution that, likely by design, has weak checks and balances that rely on gentlemanly (we should find a better, gender balanced, term) behaviour rather than well defined enforcement mechanisms.

  3. As we can no longer trust Johnson to abide by our current constititional convention and he is thereby in effect setting out a precedent for others to follow, are we not left with the only option of a legally enforced written constitution as the sole means to make future governments and Parliamentarians accountable for their actions?

  4. It feels like we are unlearning the lessons of the Crimean War and the uprising against the East India Company and returning to the days of Old Corruption. I suppose the big difference is that we now have universal adult suffrage (for how much longer, though?), so New Corruption has to broaden its appeal and cover its tracks through a fog of populist culture war.

    Francis Fukuyama (writing pre-Trump and pre-Brexit) termed this process political decay and repatrimonialisation and saw it as a constant danger to good government. The benefits of impartial, meritocratic administration are obvious, but so too are the temptations to game the system for the benefit of family and friends, and for the power and adulation that patronage brings, pursuing the basic human instincts for kinship selection and reciprocal altruism. Maybe, too, the modern liberal state looks rotten enough to enough people for them to prefer to throw in their lot with a charismatic Big Man who breaks the rules and doles out political pork.

    We have to patiently point out what is wrong with this and appeal to norms of fairness and decency which remain widely and deeply held, as the public reaction to the Barnard Castle incident demonstrated: “it’s one rule for them and another for us”.

  5. “This blog enjoys a high standard of comments, many of which are better and more interesting than the posts.”

    None of mine of course but that is pure class

  6. Off topic but is there a mechanism in the UK constitution for a foreign
    Leader(or European Monarch) to complain about HMG to her Majesty directly.
    There must be a precedence and looking from outside at it, it seems to be the only route to get some accountability from HMG.
    But I guess there is none (Mechanism or accountability)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.