18 February 2022
Report highlights concern at 'unrestrained power' of ministers
A group of leading experts and former senior officials has raised serious concerns about the growing arbitrary power of UK ministers.
In a report published this week, the UK Constitution Monitoring Group (UKCMG) has expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the system for ensuring the government adheres to certain standards, which relies largely on self-regulation.
The report, edited by Andrew Blick, professor of politics and contemporary history at King’s College London, highlights that existing checks and balances on ministerial power are proving insufficient and that the current government is seeking to reduce them further still.
Professor Blick said: “While the workings of the UK constitution have been at the centre of political debate in recent months, the focus has been on the actions and integrity of certain individuals, and in particular the prime minister. But however these particular controversies play out, there are deeper, and in many ways more concerning, issues at stake.
“They involve the increasingly unrestrained power of the UK executive and its desire to free itself from the already flawed oversight mechanisms to which it is subject. These matters are interconnected and require a concerted response.”
The UKCMG has called for the system to be urgently strengthened. Several other reports – including from the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Institute for Government – have recently argued that the rules should be tightened.
The group also notes wider concerns about the government’s constitutional reform programme, which it concludes would significantly increase the power of the UK government. It ‘presses on with a number of bills despite considerable dissent.’ They deal with matters such as the regulation of elections, restrictions on the right to protest, and the treatment of refugees. ‘Between them they would enhance the discretion of the UK executive in troublesome ways,’ the report says. There are threats to violate treaty commitments, for instance in Northern Ireland, and an undermining of the status of the devolved institutions. The government also appears to be targeting the rule of law and human rights.
Many of the issues highlighted in the report are associated with the present government, and in particular the prime minister. But the group states that recent scandals and controversies reflect deeper flaws that should be addressed regardless of who is in office.
The group believes that the government should open itself up to more oversight and scrutiny to avoid the kind of political difficulties it has experienced recently, many of which relate to excessive discretion and a failure to follow the rules.
You can read the full UKCMG report here