Buckland hails himself a ‘constitutional plumber’ as he plays down review fears

The Justice Secretary has labelled himself a “constitutional plumber” as he looked to play down speculation that a review into the UK’s democratic institutions could be used to settle past Brexit scores.

Robert Buckland said a commission looking into the country’s constitutional set-up would “let the heat out” after tensions arose during last year’s Brexit clash between Downing Street and the top judges in the land.

The Conservative Party manifesto at the last election pledged to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission, causing some to fear it could be used by Number 10 for revenge in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that the Prime Minister had unlawfully suspended parliament.

But Cabinet minister Mr Buckland has insisted the “system is fundamentally sound” and that he was not in favour of “revolution”, telling MPs “incrementalism has a lot to commend itself”.

He told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: “I am an incrementalist – I’ve described myself as a bit of plumber when it comes to these things. A constitutional plumber, if you like.

“The system is fundamentally sound but in order to make it better for the citizens that we serve, sometimes you do need to get your bags of tools out and you need to repair it and perhaps change it a bit and make it run better, make it more efficient.

“I think it is very much in that sort of spirit that I approach these issues.”

David Mundell MP, committee member and former Scotland secretary, replied: “Adding to that analogy, you seem to be suggesting we will perhaps end up changing the taps rather than ripping out the bath and having a wet room.”

Later in Tuesday’s inquiry, Mr Buckland said the work of the commission, which he suggested had already started, would help provide “perspective” after the Brexit rows.

Supreme Court
Supreme Court

Explaining the rationale behind establishing the commission, he said: “We’re very much conscious of the fact that over the last few years we have seen quite a lot of tensions emerge around aspects of our constitution – a lot of controversy, let’s face it, about certain interactions.

“I think it is important to let the heat go out of that and for us to allow for mature reflection and consideration, a deliberative approach and then for Government to respond.

“And I make the point that this is not about an attempt to after-the-event deal with political challenges and controversies that were experienced by the previous government for example.

“I think a sense of perspective and getting away from the heat of some of the debate we saw last year has real merit.”

Mr Buckland told the panel that he considered the two reviews ordered in recent months, into administrative law and the Human Rights Act respectively, as part of “commission-based work”.

“It will continue in different forms, both led by me and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Michael Gove) over the next months and several years,” he added.