How do we interpret the current political moment in Britain? Is Brexit changing Britain’s unwritten constitution? Tune in to our special Brexit edition of the Governance Podcast between Andrew Blick and Vernon Bogdanor.  This episode is co-hosted by the Centre for British Politics and Government at King’s College London.

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The Guest

Vernon Bogdanor is a Research Professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History at King’s College London and Professor of Politics at the New College of the Humanities. He is also Emeritus Professor of Politics and Government at the University of Oxford where he is an Emeritus Fellow of Brasenose College.

Since 1966, he has been Senior Tutor (1979–85 and 1996–97), Vice-Principal, and (in 2002–2003) Acting Principal at Brasenose College, Oxford. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Fellow of the British Academy and an Honorary Fellow of the Society for Advanced Legal Studies.

He has been a member of Council of the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government, Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, Member of the Court of Essex University, adviser (as a member of the Council of Europe and American Bar Association delegations) to the governments of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel and Slovakia on constitutional and electoral reform, member of the Academic Panel of Local Authority Associations, member of the Hansard Society Commission on the Legislative Process, member of the UK Government delegation on Democratic Institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and Conference on the Protection of Minorities, Consultant to Independent Television News (ITN) on the General Election, member of the Economic and Social Research Council’s committee administering the ‘Whitehall’ programme, special adviser to the House of Commons Select Committee on the Public Services, member of the Swedish Constitutional Reform Project, member of the Advisory Group to the High Commissioner on National Minorities, adviser to the President of Trinidad on the Constitution of Trinidad, and member of the Economic and Social Research Council’s committee administering the devolution programme.

The Book

Beyond Brexit: Towards a British Constitution was published by Bloomsbury Press in 2019.

Skip Ahead

1:12: Why did you write this book?

2:56: What is the main thesis of this book? What is the main impact of Brexit on the British Constitution?

5:08: Turning to the referendum, which as you say has become, since the issue of being in the EU came on to the agenda, a big part of our constitution and our way of taking decisions, as you show in earlier works you’ve written, we were actually arguing about whether or not we should introduce a referendum for a long while, as far as the late 19th century… one important proponent of the referendum… wrote an important book on that in the 1920s. And one point he made was that although he was in favour a referendum… he said that “the referendum shall never be used in answer to abstract questions such as ‘are you in favour of a monarchy.’

8:09: What do you think is the reason for the political turbulence that has taken place? You could argue that two prime ministers now have seen their careers destroyed by the referendum. How do you account for that?

10:43: In your estimation do you think that David Cameron learned the lesson in 1975 and felt that he could replicate the same trick that Harold Wilson had pulled off then?

11:52: Moving on to your background, as I said in the introduction you’ve been talking about the constitution in the UK…for a long while… What first interested you in the constitution?

13:15: Who were your teachers? Who influenced you?

14:52: Would you describe yourself now as a political scientist, historian or something else?

15:36: You mentioned earlier this idea of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty – the theoretical and practical problems associated with it… and in your book you talk about the possibility that the UK will move towards a written constitution. I’m sensing you think that’s a good idea. Do you think it’s likely to happen?

18:01: In that kind of scenario, you could potentially see clashes between judges and elected politicians over who actually has the legitimacy to take these kind of decisions.

21:20: You mentioned earlier that one of the reasons for the political turbulence since the referendum was that the people … have a different view to most of the people in parliament and government.  Do you think there are ways to bring them back together?

23:45: We’re now on the brink of a new prime minister taking power. Do you see any reason to believe that, whoever that may be, will be more successful than the last two prime ministers were in managing the referendum and the European issue?

25:02: What are you working on next?

25:53: Is it fair to say that that period… the pre-first world war period, which was… a period of constitutional turbulence… is comparable to the one we’re in now?