'Legitimacy is Keir Starmer's newest nightmare - it will make this government weak' says Steven Barrett

Keir Starmer

"This government’s legitimacy deficit means it will be weak, weak, weak," says Steven Barrett

Steven  Barrett

By Steven Barrett

Published: 08/07/2024

- 14:04

Barrister Steven Barrett argues Starmer has "no legitimacy for the sweeping constitutional changes he has told us about"

Like many a bright child who can’t do maths, I became a lawyer. Now, bad at maths as I may be, I can still do some basic sums. And that means I can see that, in the EU Referendum, 17.4 million people voted Leave.

In contrast 16.1 million voted Remain. Only 9.7 million just voted for Starmer, and that’s a problem, why?

Well, add up those referendum votes. 33.5 million people voted. Yet in 2024, with a larger population, less than a third of voters voted for this Government.

Many countries pretend to have a single document constitution. It’s a pretence because they always have extra bits elsewhere – often in rulings by their Courts for example. We have an evolved constitution.

I don’t like to call it ‘unwritten’ because that is just weird – our constitution is written, even if we lose bits of it from time to time up chimneys in Westminster or down the back of sofas in Bucks Palace.

And our evolved constitution has a concept of Legitimacy. It is true to say that constitutions face regular challenges from events. It’s also Sod’s Law that the thing that challenges your constitution next, will be the thing that no one has looked at in ages.

So it was with Brexit. Which caused at least two constitutional challenges no one had thought about for ages. The first was our relationship with International Law and when it is, and isn’t law here (top tip, it’s law here if Parliament says so, not law if they don’t).

Second was the role of Courts in reviewing Parliament, which led to the Spider Broach Prorogation case and ultimately a much better understanding of something called ouster clauses.

Well, Sod’s Law strikes again, here is our latest constitutional challenge and Keir Starmer’s new nightmare – legitimacy.

And that’s because anyone who can do basic maths can tell you that any Government with a 9.7 million voters, in a country with nearly 70 million people in it, just is not legitimate.

And this issue will come up, time and time again. Now I’ve been speaking openly in public on our constitution for over four years and I know how this game goes. The fact that legitimacy is an issue, means political people for whom that is inconvenient, will probably pile in on me for saying so.

I’ve been attacked by zealous Leavers and Remainers whenever a truth about the constitution didn’t go their particular way.

The easiest way will be to suddenly pretend we are an Elected Dictatorship (that very thing the same people probably decried only moments earlier) and that only control of MPs matters. But that is just plain wrong.


Our system has always balanced Parliaments power with other groups/factions. Initially, it was Parliament v the King. Then over time (evolution remember!) Members of the Commons were balanced by powerful landowners in the House of Lords.

Ultimately, with the full franchise of the vote to all adults, Parliamentary power is balanced, often via the media, by the views of the public (that’s why referendums exist).

That’s what legitimacy is in our constitution. Starmer has power as wide as an ocean and as deep as a puddle. He has no legitimacy for the sweeping constitutional changes he has told us about.

Worse for him, given he’s just announced he doesn’t want to be “bound by doctrine”, he definitely has zero legitimacy for all these plans he never bothered to tell us about. This Government’s legitimacy deficit means it will be weak, weak, weak.

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