CONGRESS 2021

« State of the Union »

Congrès du Crecib, Lyon, 7-8-9 octobre 2021

Convenors: Stéphanie Bory & Fiona Simpkins
stephanie.bory@univ-lyon3.fr & fiona.simpkins@univ-lyon2.fr

The results of the June 2016 European referendum have presented the United Kingdom with a number of significant economic, political and legal conundrums which question both its Constitution and the integrity of the British Union. The process of leaving the European Union after over 40 years of integration involves a hitherto unique disengagement from a codified to an uncodified system and challenges the fundamental principle of parliamentary sovereignty with that of the sovereignty of the people. The confrontations between Conservative governments and Parliament since June 2016 have brought to light the tensions inherent to the UK’s unwritten constitution which have been triggered by the withdrawal process. These include some of the most fundamental constitutional issues, including the separation of powers, devolution and the protection of fundamental rights, which this conference will seek to discuss.

Contributors are invited to reassess the unitary nature of the United Kingdom and explore the conflicting interpretations of the nature of the Union which emerged in 1707 and failed to be bridged by the introduction of devolution in the late 1990s. To what extent does the Westminster model proned by Brexiteers today clash with a plurinational understanding of the Union in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?  How do unionism and European Union membership fit with a distinct Scottish tradition of shared and divided sovereignty? These differing visions of the nature of the state would appear to have found an echo in the debate over the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union as illustrated by the sharply contrasting results produced by the European referendum of June 2016 in each of the four British nations. While England (53.4%) and Wales (52.5%) voted Leave, Scotland (62%) and Northern Ireland (55.8%) voted Remain. These differing results mirror the increasingly distinct political landscapes of each nation, which have led some political commentators to question the continued existence of British party politics in an “electorally disunited kingdom” and the future integrity of the United Kingdom. Contributions may investigate to what extent the Brexit process could accelerate the centripetal movement of divergent electoral patterns as it threatens the current devolution settlements and the peace process in Northern Ireland. While control of competences heretofore held in Brussels is now contested between the UK government and the devolved legislatures, Brexit also questions the cross-border governance arrangements established by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

With increasingly divergent political debates and campaigns in each of the four UK nations, British general elections in the past twenty years have been characterised by unprecedented levels of volatility and fragmentation. The 2010 and 2017 general elections both resulted in hung parliaments and only half of voters backed the same party in the three elections between 2010 and 2017 according to the British Election Study. With Brexit slicing through traditional political alliances, the left/right political spectrum has lost much of its relevance and parties will have trouble identifying their target voters ahead of the next general elections of December 12th 2019. Smaller parties have now seized on this polarisation of UK politics with the Liberal Democrats arguing in favour of revoking article 50 and cancelling Brexit, the SNP pledging to secure an independent Scotland in the EU and the Brexit Party to leave the EU without a deal. While swing voters are unlikely to switch from a pro-Remain to a pro-Leave party, many are predicted to switch between parties on each side of the Brexit faultline. The conference will therefore seek to shed some light on the current divisions within political parties in Britain over policy and strategy and question the current polarisation and fragmentation of the British electorate.

The salience of Brexit in the election may drop as the campaign advances. Policy could remain key to the election with both main parties appearing reluctant to compromise. Labour will campaign on the most left-wing platform in a generation, pledging to reverse the Conservatives’ programme of fiscal austerity, proposing the creation of a “national investment bank”, bringing utility companies back into public ownership or abolishing private schools. The Conservatives have pledged to increase police forces and introduce longer jail sentences for convicted criminals, but also promised to invest in an “infrastructure revolution” with generous spending for transport, schools and the NHS. Contributions may investigate current policy debates pertaining to health, education, immigration, policing and crime, transport or the environment. After years of austerity, public services will be at the heart of the coming electoral campaign and the conference will welcome papers assessing the transformation of public services and approaches to public service delivery in the last decades, as well as their impact on the institutions which underpin the British Welfare state and a British identity.

Papers are invited on topics related to but not limited to:

Constitutional issues

  • Unions and unionism in the UK
  • Political unitarism and plurinationalism in the UK
  • The UK Constitution and calls for reform
  • Parliamentary sovereignty and referenda in the UK
  • Separation of powers and the role of the Prime Minister in the UK Constitution
  • Devolution in the UK
  • Brexit and the issue of human rights

Political issues

  • Political parties in the UK: leadership, policy, electoral strategy, conflict and division…
  • Divergent electoral patterns and political landscapes in the four UK nations
  • The December 2019 general election: Brexit, policy, party manifestos, constituency candidate selection, target seats, campaigns and results.

Brexit and national identity

  • Brexit, Ukip and the Brexit Party
  • Brexit, devolution and the English national identity
  • Brexit and immigration
  • Brexit and nationalism in Wales and Scotland
  • Brexit, nationalism and unionism in Northern Ireland

Social and economic issues

  • The Welfare State: diagnosis, future.
  • Public services and austerity
  • Brexit and the NHS
  • Criminal law and law enforcement in the UK
  • Debates on the environment
  • Migration and diversity in the UK
  • Brexit and the future of the UK economy
  • Brexit and the UK’s international position