The Shibboleth of Sovereignty
28 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2018
Date Written: November 2018
Sovereignty is the central tenet of modern British constitutional thought but its meaning remains misunderstood. Lawyers treat it as a precise legal concept – the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty – but commonly fail to acknowledge that that doctrine is erected on a skewed sense of what sovereignty entails. In particular, they do not see that the doctrine rests on a particular political conviction, that the British state depends on a central authority equipped with an unlimited power. These two facets of sovereignty are now so deeply intertwined in legal consciousness that they cannot easily be unravelled and this becomes the main barrier to thinking constructively about Britain's constitutional arrangements. This article substantiates these claims by explaining how the doctrine came into being, demonstrating how it is tied to a deeper political conviction, showing that its political underpinnings have been considerably weakened over the last century, and indicating how its re‐working is the precondition of constitutional renewal.
Keywords: Sovereignty, Parliamentary sovereignty, Dicey. British constitution, Brexit
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