Comment

18.06.18

Brexit's long shadow over devolution

Source: PSE June/July 2018

The EU Referendum and the stop-start Brexit negotiations have left a looming shadow of uncertainty over devolution in the UK, writes Anthony Salamone, research fellow and strategic advisor at the Scottish Centre on European Relations.

Brexit is unquestionably reshaping the politics and public sector of the UK. The results of the EU Referendum rather expeditiously ushered out the tacit consensus in Westminster in favour of EU membership, replaced by majority support for Brexit – whether motivated by ideology, democratic principles or pragmatism. Nevertheless, Parliament remains divided over the form of Brexit, with significant underlying backing for a ‘soft Brexit,’ contrasted with the government’s committed course towards a ‘hard Brexit.’

Such is the continuing extent of those divisions that, two years on from the referendum, the appellations of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ continue to be applied to politicians and other figures when appearing in the media and elsewhere. The question of what kind of Brexit is rooted in the escapable fact that, despite rapid and substantial attempts at revisionism, the EU Referendum delivered only a verdict to leave the EU, and nothing on the design of the UK’s future relationship with it.

This maelstrom of Brexit portends an uncertain future for the devolved settlements for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (devolution within England being more sporadic and less constitutionally imbued). European Union membership is embedded into the very architecture, including through a responsibility to implement EU law in areas of  competence and an obligation not  to legislate contrary to EU law. Accordingly, Brexit heralds a transformation in how devolution functions – and the overriding questions have been how that change will be shaped and who will decide.

The main operating premise has been that, upon EU withdrawal (though potentially deferred during a Brexit transition), general EU law requirements will end, giving the devolved authorities, in effect, greater control over areas in which they are already competent. However, disagreement arose over the extent to which those enhanced powers should be subject to centralisation at UK level – and, by extension, what role the devolved institutions should have in that process. This synopsis encapsulates the devolution debate around the EU Withdrawal Bill, for which the UK Government has sought legislative consent.

Following protracted negotiations, Cardiff and London reached an agreement and the Welsh Assembly has given legislative consent to the bill. However, at the time of writing, Edinburgh has not agreed and the Scottish Parliament has refused legislative consent. In a cross-party vote, the SNP, Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats all supported withholding consent, with only the Conservatives opposed. This rejection therefore reflects widespread concern and cannot simply be ascribed to posturing on independence.

Despite this landmark response, the UK Government has made clear that it intends to proceed with the EU Withdrawal Bill. A Supreme Court challenge equally looms for the Scottish EU Continuity Bill, Holyrood’s own flagship Brexit legislation. While the notion of a ‘constitutional crisis’ has regularly been mentioned in this context, ‘persistent constitutional conflict’ would likely be  a more apt description of present circumstances. Even at a late stage, the Scottish and UK governments could still reach a deal, which would presumably suit both sides, and reduce the scope of the conflict.

Beyond the direct impact of Brexit on the foundations of devolution, the devolved governments have also been concerned with representing their interests in the Brexit negotiations. Particular areas such as fisheries, which are important to Scotland, might be treated differently between Edinburgh and London. More broadly, the Scottish and Welsh governments have made the case extensively for a soft Brexit. The general view, from Scotland in particular, has been one  of frustration at the limited interest and engagement of the UK Government.

Brexit therefore raises wider questions about relations between London and the other governments of the UK. In that respect, the manner by which the UK Government conducts the Brexit process matters, alongside the substance of EU withdrawal. Recent developments point to the need for a serious discussion on the constitutional governance of the UK – including arrangements to safeguard the rights and powers of the devolved institutions. Brexit could cast a long shadow over devolution, extending far beyond March 2019.

 

Enjoying PSE? Subscribe here to receive our weekly news updates or click here to receive a copy of the magazine!

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Essex council announces £1bn construction deal

22/03/2019Essex council announces £1bn construction deal

An Essex council has announced a £1bn contract in a joint venture to regenerate council sites and deliver new homes and commercial faciliti... more >
Council to pull out of government schools improvement body over rising costs and ‘major concerns’ over poor management

22/03/2019Council to pull out of government schools improvement body over rising costs and ‘major concerns’ over poor management

A Welsh council is to pull out of a government-run schools improvement scheme over concerns about how it is run and fears that the quadrupling of... more >
Councils' legal challenge against Buckinghamshire merger process rejected

22/03/2019Councils' legal challenge against Buckinghamshire merger process rejected

An application from three district councils for a judicial review of the merger plans to create a single unitary council for Buckinghamshire has ... more >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

Councils Can: LGA launches Spending Review campaign

18/03/2019Councils Can: LGA launches Spending Review campaign

Lord Porter, chairman of the Local Government Association, outlines his organisation’s campaign to make sure local government tops to government’s list for this year’s Spending Review. Our #CouncilsCan campaign to influence this year’s Spending Review is well underway and gathering momentum. The money local governm... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

interviews

Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technology partners has recently welcomed a new member to its team. Matt Spencer, O2’s head of public ... more >
Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need to invest in technology to help make better use of their resources. Bu... more >
New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

public sector focus

Flexible working being led by the public sector, Softworks survey finds

26/02/2019Flexible working being led by the public sector, Softworks survey finds

The public sector is leading the way in regar... more >
Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technolo... more >