New Act of Union proposed to ‘stabilise’ UK post-Brexit

The group is proposing a new Act of Union. Picture: Julie Bull

The group is proposing a new Act of Union. Picture: Julie Bull

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A new Act of Union has been proposed in a bid to ‘stabilise’ the United Kingdom in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The cross-party Constitution Reform Group (CRG) said its draft legislation could provide a “satisfying and lasting alternative” to the current constitutional arrangements or the possible break up of the UK.

The Constitution Reform Group is clear that by reinventing the Union in this new and logically defensible way, we can secure it for centuries to come

Constitution Reform Group

It comes after the European referendum put the future of the UK in jeopardy, as both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay part of the EU while England and Wales voted to leave.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said the result of that vote makes another ballot on independence for Scotland ‘highly likely’.

But the CRG - which has former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Menzies Campbell, ex-Labour Welsh and Northern Ireland secretary Lord Peter Hain and Labour MP and Brexit campaigner Gisela Stuart on its steering committee - argued the ‘divisions’ in the country can only be healed by ‘immediate and vigorous action to reassert the most valuable and durable features of the United Kingdom’.

Members of the steering committee said: “The Constitution Reform Group is composed of pro-Union people from all parties and none, who firmly believe that the four nations of the United Kingdom are tied together by much more than what divides them.

“All crises offer great opportunities and the Constitution Reform Group is clear that by reinventing the Union in this new and logically defensible way, we can secure it for centuries to come.”

Its draft Act of Union proposes the UK Parliament has control of central policy areas, including constitutional matters, defence, foreign affairs and national security.

The remaining policy areas would be dealt with by a new English Parliament, together with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies.

There would also be an option to phase out the House of Lords and replace it with a new elected chamber for ‘a federation of the UK’.

The CRG said its plans would need to be backed in a referendum - adding that majority support would be required in the UK and the four home nations before the legislation could be brought in.

In a letter, the steering committee, which also includes the former leader of the House of Lords Robert Salisbury and former Ulster Unionist MP David Burnside, said the independence referendum in 2014, followed by the implementation of English Votes for English Legislation (EVEL) and the SNP’s success in the 2015 general election, had highlighted “deep imbalances in the make-up of the Union”.

Meanwhile devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has “failed to satisfy the aspirations” of people there, while leaving many in England feeling “simply ignored”.

They said: “The Constitution Reform Group therefore proposes a new measure that aims to rest the UK’s constitutional arrangements.”

The Act of Union is a “consultation document designed to offer a satisfying and lasting alternative to either the status quo or the break up of the United Kingdom”, they added.

“In this new Act of Union, we start from the position that each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a unit that can and should determine its own affairs to the extent it considers it should, but that each unit should also be free to choose to share, through an efficient and effective United Kingdom, functions which are more effectively exercised on that basis.”

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