The government has ruled “by diktat” since Brexit and the Covid pandemic, reports by two cross-party committees have concluded.
The peers’ reports found laws were passed without due scrutiny, allowing the government to hold more power than they would under the normal legal process.
This prompted the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (SLSC) and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC) to warn against the powers used by ministers during the simultaneous crises.
They said the “balance of power between parliament and government has for some time been shifting away from parliament”, adding: “A critical moment has now been reached when that balance must be reset: not restored to how things were immediately before these exceptional recent events, but reset afresh.”
Lord Hodgson, chair of the SLSC, said “government by diktat must not become the norm” and that “hundreds of laws are being imposed on all of us” without the necessary scrutiny.
He added: “Increasingly the government has made use of secondary legislation, regulations and orders which are subject to a much lower level of scrutiny than primary legislation.
“Given this, it is not surprising that the executive can be tempted to put as much of the law as possible into regulations.”
The revelations come as only last week veteran Tory Ken Clarke warned the UK is ‘dangerously close to elected dictatorship’ under Boris Johnson.
‘We’re dangerously close to dictatorship’, veteran Tory warns
Clarke said the prime minister is showing impatience towards “constitutional constraints” and “gets angry if the courts of parliament try to interfere”.
“As the elected prime minister, he thinks he should not be impeded in these ways. We are now getting dangerously close to the ‘elected dictatorship’ that Lord Hailsham, the former lord chancellor, warned us about half a century ago,” he said.
He added: “We have relied for too long on a Victorian ideal of what we used to call decent chaps doing the right thing to keep our constitutional principles intact.
“We have got to the point where we need a serious written constitution. We need to restore the strengths of the Commons and the Lords by putting their powers into statutory reforms.
“We are at the absurd point where it is up to the government whether extremely contentious pieces of legislation get to be debated at all.”
Clarke warned the government’s handling of the Northern Ireland Protocol is posing a serious threat to both the Good Friday Agreement and security cooperation.
He also accused Boris Johnson of attempting to “tear up” his Brexit agreement and, at the same time, finding a way of doing so in a way that the government can blame it on the French.
“I only hope that they have got experts working behind the scenes on an alternative plan. A lot of what is being said at the moment is laughable,” he said.