Hold union together with something ‘more robust than consent’, says law professor
The union should be held together with “something rather more robust” than “consent”, according to a law professor.
Adam Tomkins, who is a Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow, argued that the UK needed a new Act of Union as a “constitutional safeguard”.
Professor Tomkins, who is also a Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, suggested that regarding the UK as a “voluntary union” is “not normal”.
He cited the example of Spain where the courts ruled that it was unlawful for Catalonia to hold a vote on independence.
The Spanish Government has been condemned because of violent crackdown by police against protesters and for throwing Catalonian political leaders in jail for holding an independence referendum.
The professor added that the law could be used to “impose obligations on governments and public bodies” to “act with fidelity towards” the “territorial integrity of the country”.
‘Force of law’
He wrote in The Spectator: “For the last century the United Kingdom has regarded itself as a voluntary union of four home nations. Consent, rather than the force of law, has been the glue that has held us together.
“This is not normal. Most countries hold themselves together with something rather more robust.
“In Spain, the courts, applying the constitution, ruled that it was unlawful for Catalan separatists even to hold a vote on Catalan independence.
“In the United States the position would be even stricter. Its leading case on the law of secession was admittedly decided in the immediate aftermath of the US Civil War, but the US Supreme Court’s authoritative decision on the matter was unequivocal.
“When a state becomes one of the United States it enters into ‘an indissoluble relation’ that is ‘final’, the Court ruled. There is ‘no place for reconsideration, or revocation, except through revolution’ or with the consent of the United States.”
He added: “The United Kingdom needs a new Act of Union to set out, authoritatively, the rare circumstances in which one part of the country can seek lawfully to secede.
“As well as defining how frequently referendums on such a matter may be held, the law could at the same time impose obligations on governments and public bodies throughout the land to act with fidelity towards — and not to undermine — the territorial integrity of the country.
“Nationalists will howl with rage at this proposal. In response to them I would just gently point out that their beloved European Union includes within its treaties a like provision: ‘Member states shall facilitate the achievement of the Union’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the Union’s objectives’.
“Time to copy and paste this idea from the EU’s rulebook into our own: ‘devolved administrations shall facilitate the achievement of the United Kingdom’s tasks and refrain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the United Kingdom’s objectives’. What Europhile Nationalist could object to that?”
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