Parliamentary supremacy

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Law - UK.

The historical legal principle in the UK that the UK Parliament was 'supreme' in its law-making powers.

This principle was fundamentally affected when the UK joined the European Union (EU) in 1973.

Parliamentary supremacy meant that:

  1. The UK Parliament was able to make law for the UK as it saw fit either by repealing earlier statutes, over-ruling case law or by making new law.
  2. No UK Parliament could bind its successor. Parliament could not make laws that a subsequent Parliament was prevented from altering or repealing.
  3. The courts in the UK had to apply the relevant statute law enacted by the UK Parliament.

When the UK joined the EU, UK Parliamentary supremacy was fundamentally affected, and it was no longer true to say that only the UK Parliament had the power to make new law for the UK.

The effect of the UK becoming a member of the EU was to surrender the UK Parliament's supremacy on certain matters of European Union law which had direct effect on member states.

This resulted in the position that:

  1. The EU could pass legislation directly for the UK.
  2. The UK could not, generally, make laws that conflict with EU law.
  3. Overall, EU law enjoyed supremacy over domestic national law and was applied in priority to domestic law.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, subject to a transition period that ended on 31 December 2020.

Following this transition period, the current position in the UK remains complicated because of the presence of retained EU law.

See also