Show Summary Details
Page of

(p. 391) 14. Federalism 

(p. 391) 14. Federalism
(p. 391) 14. Federalism

John McEldowney

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD LAW TROVE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Law Trove for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 17 June 2021

Federalism, to date, has proved unattractive to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is commonly described as a unitary state, whereby governmental power is primarily exercised through a sovereign Parliament at Westminster. The UK may be distinguished from Federal countries, notably the United States or Germany. In federal systems, sovereign power is shared between the federal government and the states. However, the description of the United Kingdom as a unitary state is an oversimplification as there are many instances of devolved, shared and autonomous powers that do not easily fit under a centralized view of the state. These ‘quasi-federal’ elements of the constitution arise through the UK Parliament delegating to regional and local communities a variety of powers and responsibilities through elected local and municipal authorities as well as devolved ‘deals’. Since 1989, powers have been distributed to the four nations of the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland through extensive, and increasing, devolved powers (devolution) including a variety of tax-raising powers. There is also a London Assembly with devolved powers. The future of the UK after Brexit is uncertain and there are deep divisions of opinion. England and Wales voted for Brexit while London, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain within the EU. Different constitutional configurations were suggested for the four nations, during the nineteenth century, including federalism, Irish home rule and independence as well as strengthening local government. No exact definition of federalism emerged from the different variations supported at one time or another during this period. Consequently supporters of federalism have struggled to have a single configuration to make their case. Overall federalism was rejected as inconsistent with the orthodoxy of a unitary state formed from an incorporating union centred around a sovereign Parliament. Has the extent of substantial devolved and delegated powers reached a tipping point that places a form of divisible federalism as a way of addressing current concerns and controversies including Brexit? Any formal adoption of federalism would alter the role of the UK Supreme Court as well as future relations with the EU after Brexit. Federalism might provide a mechanism for a changing unitary state to address 21st-century challenges amidst a perceptible shift to a ‘quasi-federal’ state with devolved governments and many shared or delegated powers.

Access to the complete content on Law Trove requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access code, please see the information provided with the code or instructions printed within the title for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.