Only genuine co-operation with the devolved administrations can prevent further fracturing of the Unionby Jess Sargeant / October 24, 2019 / Leave a comment
Brexit has presented huge difficulties for the relationships between the nations of the UK. Cooperation between the four governments is at a low point, and joint working on no-deal preparations has significantly declined since Boris Johnson became prime minister. This conclusion, which forms part of a new Institute for Government report, underlines the deep challenges ahead as the UK prepares to leave the EU.
These challenges exist at a political level, where the UK government has pursued a major policy that has been strongly opposed by the Scottish and Welsh governments. While in Northern Ireland, without ministers, similar political tensions do not arise, there is concern that NI’s interests as a whole are not being adequately taken into account. But there are also challenges at a practical level, where unprecedented levels of intergovernmental coordination have been necessary to prepare for Brexit, and for the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal.
If the UK government continues with its current approach to the devolved nations, there is a risk that things may deteriorate further.
Intergovernmental working on no-deal preparation was in a good place prior to the original March Article 50 deadline, and devolved representatives were regularly attending Theresa May’s cabinet committees. The UK and devolved governments had also worked well together to correct the statute books for exit day through secondary legislation—most of which has passed through the UK parliament with the consent of devolved ministers.
Despite a continued commitment to include devolved representatives in UK government preparations for Brexit, since Johnson took office there has been a marked change in practice. As of 8th October, Scottish ministers had been invited to just eight out of over 50 meetings of Johnson’s cabinet committees; and even at official level, civil servants in the devolved administrations reported that their counterparts in Whitehall were sharing even less information than before.
This does not bode well. Even though no deal itself looks less likely than it did perhaps a few weeks ago, the government’s approach so far may be indicative of how it will operate in future. Whether Johnson’s deal is passed and ratified, or whether we leave the EU without a deal at some future date, there are significant intergovernmental tests on the horizon. Specifically, there are four…