UK devolution arrangements 'need overhaul following Brexit'

By agency reporter
April 10, 2018

Brexit means all four governments of the UK – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Westminster – must go back to the drawing board to redefine their relationships, argues a new report. 

Published by the Institute for Government, Devolution after Brexit: Managing the environment, agriculture and fisheries, says the devolution arrangements of the late 1990s were designed to function within membership of the EU. Outside of the EU, they are no longer fit for purpose.

A failure to agree how to cooperate over these devolved policy areas after Brexit will cause disruption to the UK economy, costing people time and money and putting shared environmental resources at risk.

The report looks at the environment, agriculture and fisheries – areas where new UK-wide agreements are most urgently needed.

For example, an agreement on agriculture subsidies is needed to prevent unfair competition, ensuring that farmers in different parts of the UK can compete on a level playing field. Cooperation is also necessary to ensure the UK Government can deliver the benefits of new trade deals and meet its international environmental obligations.

The four governments have made progress in addressing these issues but the imperative to act is growing, as agreement on key legislation – such as the EU Withdrawal Bill – is required to prevent further delays.

The report makes recommendations for how the four governments can work together now and after Brexit, including:

  • An urgent review of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) – the JMC is the formal committee where the four governments interact. All four governments need to agree new terms of reference, new sub-committees on areas such as international trade and new processes for agreeing agendas and settling disputes.
  • Four-nation by default: Any new public bodies established to replace EU institutions – including Michael Gove’s new environmental watchdog – must be designed and owned jointly by all four governments to pool expertise, reduce costs for business and ensure compliance with agreed standards.
  • Joint-working between Parliament: Parliamentary committees in Westminster must hold joint evidence sessions and inquiries with committees in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Jill Rutter, Brexit programme director at the Institute for Government, said, “The past year has shown the strain leaving the EU is placing on devolution arrangements designed on the assumption of UK membership. It is time for an overhaul. It is in the interests not only of the UK government, but also the devolved governments, to develop firm foundations for future joint working – to promote collaboration and innovation. Only then will we have the right environment, agriculture and fisheries policies for the whole country after Brexit.”

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of global conservation, said, “Nature knows no borders. For very good reason the EU has set common standards on a broad range of environmental issues that affect us all. It is vital that our governments work together to agree new shared frameworks for nature’s recovery and new joint governance arrangements capable of holding them all to account.”

* The report Devolution after Brexit: Managing the environment, agriculture and fisheries is avialable to download here

* Institute for Government


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