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09.04.18

UK devolved policy will be under serious strain after Brexit, says IfG

Environment, agriculture and fisheries, designed to function within the EU, are no longer fit for purpose outside the Union according to a study by Institute for Government (IfG).

The report says that once the UK leaves the European Union, the four governments, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Westminster, must go back to the drawing board to redefine their relationships.

The UK Government estimates there are around 153 areas of policy that have been devolved, but where EU frameworks have limited the scope for policy variation across the UK.

The study focuses on the environment, agriculture and fisheries as they are three key policy domains which make up 41 of the 153 areas.

The four governments have made progress in addressing these issues, but with a growing imperative to act and a lack of agreement on key legislation such as the EU Withdrawal Bill delays are highly likely.

This has led to tension between the devolved governments and Westminster over the bill, which is supposed to determine where the powers currently under the control of Brussels will return.

The devolved administrations want these powers to return to their respective capitals, whereas the UK Government wants them to return to London to provide continuity and certainty once the UK officially leaves.

Despite these differences there is one area of agreement: that all sides recognise that agreements will have to be put in place between the governments to ensure the functioning of the ‘UK internal market.’

The IfG paper, ‘Devolution After Brexit,’ sets out how the country should approach necessary UK-wide agreements and what mechanisms and institutions will be necessary to support them.

The lead author of the paper, Maddy Thimont-Jack, said: “The UK Government has said it wants to deliver a ‘Green Brexit’, as well as strike new trade deals and strengthen the union of the UK. It can only do this by collaborating with the devolved governments, but at the moment trust is at a low point.

"There needs to be an urgent review of the current devolution arrangements to rebuild the relationship and make sure the four nations can work together effectively after Brexit.“

It suggests that the four nations must strike a careful balance and although centralising has potential benefits for UK economic performance and makes it easier to negotiate internationally, it risks causing lasting harm between Westminster and the other UK nations.

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