Gordon Brown has warned the United Kingdom is at breaking point and could end unless the nations and regions get a real “voice” in decision-making.
The ex-prime minister told the BBC too much political and economic power was concentrated in London and the UK had to change “from top to bottom”.
What was needed was a “constitutional revolution”, not “cosmetic” ideas such as re-locating the House of Lords.
Labour, he added, needed to “sort itself out” to return to power.
Speaking to the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, he said he would not be backing any leadership candidate at this stage and would have more to say later in the contest.
But Mr Brown, who was Labour leader between 2007 and 2010, said the party needed to “look at itself” when it couldn’t win an election after a decade of austerity and with standards of living stagnating.
He also said the case had not been made for another Scottish independence referendum.
The union ‘could end’
Mr Brown has spoken out before about his concerns that the 300 year political and economic union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was in peril.
But, in his strongest warning to date, he said the Brexit vote showed the UK was “not at ease with itself” and there needed to be “fundamental” change once the UK had left the EU.
“Unless the regions and nations feel they have a voice that is respected in the United Kingdom, the UK’s three hundred year old history may at some point soon be over,” he said.
“The UK needs what would be akin, for a country which is a unitary state, to a constitutional revolution.
“We have to give more power to people in the communities and in the localities and the regions. We have a far too over-centralised state based in one part of the country – an administrative, political and financial centre that excludes power from people out in the regions.”
He said he regretted that in its 13 years in power, Labour had not done more to challenge regional disparities, saying its plans to devolve political and economic powers through regional assemblies and development bodies had been insufficient.
Mr Brown said the Brexit vote had revealed the levels of dissatisfaction in the country and there needed to be wholesale change to repair the “social contract” between individuals and the state – with a focus on quality jobs, improved public services and urban regeneration.
Reflecting on proposals floated over the weekend to move the House of Lords to York, he said the economic needs of the north of England were wholly different from the south and symbolic transfers of power would not do.
He called for a convention to decide on changes to the constitution, with the public being given a say through a series of citizens’ assemblies and a new Northern forum for mayors and other regional leaders to affect the process.
“The regions and nations have got to have a voice. It can’t be central diktats again from Whitehall. It can’t be cosmetic initiatives dreamed up in London about sending MPs around the regions or moving the House of Lords somewhere different.
“An anachronistic institution will remain an anachronistic institution even if it is 200 miles north of London.”