Chair 2019 – 2020

In 2019/2020 the holder of the Ganshof van der Meersch Chair was Alison Young, Sir David Williams Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, on the recommendation of Prof. Julien Pieret, Director of the Department of Public Law, and of Prof. Emmanuel Slautsky, an Alumnus of the Foundation.

The opening lecture of the Chair, entitled: “Brexit and the United Kingdom Constitution”. was delivered on February 13, 2020.

Abstract of the lecture

Brexit has had a profound impact on the UK constitution. It questions a series of assumptions on which the UK constitution is based. The use of referendums challenges both representative democracy and parliamentary sovereignty. The tension between Parliament and the Government illustrates a tension between different conceptions of representative democracy. The measures adopted to implement the UK’s exit from the European Union have provoked further tension between the component nations of the United Kingdom, potentially placing the stability of the Union in doubt. Brexit has also seen a growth in the use of courts to resolve constitutional issues, suggesting that the move away from the constitutionalisation of the UK which arose due to its membership of the European Union may be replaced by a growing constitutionalisation of the UK from the development of the common law. In addition to tracking these changes, the lecture will argue that Brexit has made evident a deeper flaw in the UK’s constitutional arrangements. Whilst the evolutionary nature of the UK constitution can enable it to weather such storms, I will argue that its preference for pragmatic solutions can leave it vulnerable to populism. If the UK is to survive the challenges posed by Brexit, there is a need for a deeper engagement with and discussion of the values of constitutionalism in the UK. This may only be achieved through a process of constitutional renewal, if not codification of aspects of the UK constitution.