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Democracy in Britain has been bruised by the Brexit crisis, but it has emerged just about intact. In the end it was a democratic election last December that finally resolved the uncertainty left by the 2016 'people's' referendum. Twice during the Brexit crisis, the Supreme Court intervened to uphold the constitution and prevent the executive over-ruling Parliamentary democracy. And for the first time in over a decade there is now a party in power with a large and stable majority of seats (in fact the largest of any government since the 1930s), an outcome which the famous British 'first-past-the-post' system is designed to deliver. Democracy in Britain seems to have righted itself after four years in which, according to commentators around the world, it seemed not just to capsize, but be in danger of sinking altogether. However, cause for concern remains. The break-up of Britain looms as large as ever, with a resurgence of the Scottish National Party, and doubts about whether Northern Ireland is inside or outside the new customs arrangements with the European Union. As with many other democracies going forward, Britain faces new forms of electoral corruption and sinister influence over the democratic process fostered by the digital revolution, and now exacerbated by the pandemic lockdown. Finally, the Brexit crisis has exposed some fundamental historical flaws in the British way of democracy -- the lack of a written constitution, centralization of power at Westminster, and under-representation of minorities. Taking a longer historical view, what lessons can we draw about where British democracy might be headed in the years to come?
Miles Taylor is Professor of Modern History at the University of York, UK. He studied history at Queen Mary University of London, Harvard (where he was a Kennedy Scholar) and Cambridge where he took his PhD in 1989. Previously he was Director of the Institute of Historical Research in London. His recent books include Empress: Queen Victoria and India (Yale UP, 2018) and (co-ed) Utopian universities: a global history of the new campuses of the 1960s (Bloomsbury, 2020). He is currently writing a history of parliamentary representation in the UK since 1750, entitled The Sovereign People.