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Explaining Politics: UK - The Legislature, The Executive and The Monarchy

Explaining Politics: UK - The Legislature, The Executive and The Monarchy

Making The Law 

The Westminster Parliament remains the sovereign legislative body in the United Kingdom, despite Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have devolved parliaments with jurisdiction over large areas of tax, healthcare and other policies.

Also, complex is the role of the EU which tends to take precedence in cases where British and European law clash. This can be shown over the tampon tax, where the UK were unable to remove the duty on women’s sanitary products due to EU regulations.

However, as shown by Brexit, the Westminster Parliament remains sovereign and reserved the right to leave the EU and no longer have to 'voluntarily' give EU law greater credence, instead once again becoming the chief legislative body in the UK.

Parliament remains the sovereign legislative body, but as explained in our piece on devolution, increasing power has been handed out to regional governments, which exercise large autonomy over policy.

Furthermore, given the British common law system, the courts have significant power to set law through precedents, as shown by the fact that parliament has never actually legislated to make murder illegal, instead this came from an evolution of common law as a result of court precedents.

Despite all this plurality of power, parliament is still the most significant body within British politics, except for one solitary figure who has never even been elected to her position.

The Monarch

Perhaps the most confusing part of all of this is that it is all done at the pleasure of the Queen. Her Majesty will invite the leader of the largest party to form a government, thus becoming Prime Minister, as happened when David Cameron beat the incumbent Gordon Brown in 2010.

The Queen also reserves the right to dissolve parliament or to dissolve a government, making her, effectively the supreme arbiter of political power in the United Kingdom.

Yet, in actuality, she is nothing but a figurehead and her role in dissolving parliament and inviting a party leader to form a government is merely ceremonial. The Royal Family rarely if ever will speak on political issues, instead of remaining above the petty debates and acting simply as a neutral figurehead of the nation.

The Judiciary

The UK has one of the world's youngest Supreme Courts; established in 2009 after the 2005 Judicial Reform Act paved the way for its existence.

Before this, the House of Lords contained 12 Lords of Appeal, who were, in effect, Supreme Court justices; it is these Lords who then moved across to the newly formed Supreme Court upon its establishment.

This meant that the UK had the weird arrangement of all three branches of government being fused, as both the executive and judiciary took up residence in the legislature.

Now, akin to most democracies, the judiciary find itself to be a separate branch of government, often clashing with the government, as was the case earlier in the year when the courts ruled that parliament had to have a say on the Brexit withdrawal agreement - a cause of much controversy and a direct cause for the no-confidence vote that Theresa May faced earlier this month.

The UK Supreme Court, in particular, is important as it is the highest court of appeal in the UK judicial system, except for the European Courts, which as touched on previously, can often take precedence over the British system.