By Joe Harker
The UK has an unwritten constitution, there is no one document written and amended that dictates how our democracy works. Instead the UK takes a bit from this document here and that one there and puts it all together into a system that basically knows what it can and can't do but there isn't one big rulebook to point to and quote from.
Having an unwritten constitution has allowed the UK to be politically flexible, able to handle matters such as devolution without having to make significant rewrites. Instead of amending or removing part of a written constitution there was just more information and input into the way the UK worked politically. We put it in and everyone basically knows how it works.
However, recent upheavals, mostly Brexit related, have caused some to think it's high time the UK got down to writing and agreeing upon a constitution to put some hard rules into political process.
The problem with unwritten rules and precedents is when somebody breaks them it is hard to point out exactly where they went wrong. The government thought John Bercow broke the rules by allowing Dominic Grieve's amendment to be voted on by the House of Commons but there wasn't anything that said he couldn't.
The speaker may have gone against normal practice and set a new precedent but he wasn't breaking the rules. Everyone knows how they should have acted but there is very little basis to complain about what he did. If politicians aren't happy with what Bercow did then they should be pushing for a written constitution to codify how politicians operate.
If following a specific political procedure matters so much then they should clearly set out rules for how that procedure is done. The UK's unwritten constitution leaves enough room for ambiguity.
A written constitution would also have more checks and balances on the power of the head of government. If the rules were more specific then it is unlikely that Theresa May would have been able to kick the Brexit can further down the road multiple times and cling onto power for so long.
There are advantages to an unwritten constitution. As mentioned before it allows the UK to be politically flexible. There are rules and processes while parliament has more control over each specific issue. The rules of a constitution must be applied in every case, too many rules hampers political process.
If the UK had a written constitution with clear rules for what a prime minister must do if they lose a vote then the Grieve amendment, which forces Theresa May onto a stricter timetable to reflect how little time is left to deal with Brexit, would not be needed. By having an unwritten constitution parliament has managed to react to a specific situation and pass an amendment to the meaningful vote that is much needed for the situation but perhaps not at other times.
More concerning too is who would write the UK's constitution. Such an important document would essentially dictate how politicians operate and is thus vital to get right. Who gets that responsibility and how do you ensure they do it right?