Devolution in the Post-Imperial Constitution of the United Kingdom

This paper considers how the constitution of the British Empire affects the constitution of the United Kingdom. It addresses familiar constitutional ideas in their post-imperial context. Imperial constitutional ideas such as the distinction between settled and ceded colonies and the divisible nature of the Crown still settle important constitutional cases. Even parliamentary supremacy can be understood as the legacy of a constitution whose software could reset using the basic operating system. The general lines of the modern British devolution settlement also reflect historic imperial and colonial patterns of devolution. We see devolution differently when we address the UK, not as a highly-centralised unitary state, but as an Empire – a polity where problems of subsidiarity were ongoing and inescapable.