We the British People
Public Law, p. 380, 2004
27 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2011 Last revised: 26 Jan 2011
Date Written: 2004
This article argues that between 1832 and 1911 the British constitution had operated under popular rather than parliamentary sovereignty. Moreover, that it did so under a model strikingly similar to that of the United States. While under parliamentary sovereignty the legislature is authorized to enact constitutional change, Parliament repeatedly admitted its lack of authority to enact constitutional law and asked the People to determine the fate of the major constitutional issues of the period. This British popular sovereignty model was part of the political rather than legal constitution. The political actors and primarily Parliament, not the courts, enforced this model.
We substantiate our claim using both theory and history. Considering theory, we present the British popular sovereignty theory; i.e. the British referendal or mandate theory. Considering history, we describe how the British People, rather than Parliament alone, decided the major constitutional issues of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since Britain has been considered the archetype of parliamentary sovereignty, this article may revolutionize our understanding of constitutionalism.
(This abstract is not part of the official publication of the article in Public Law.)
Keywords: referendal model, parliamentary sovereignty, popular sovereignty, House of Lords, Reform Act, Home Rule, referendum, constitutional moments, British constitutional law, veto power
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