UK devolution needs 're-think,' says lawmakers' report

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON (AA) – Power-sharing between Britain’s central government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland needs to be restructured in the post-Brexit era, a parliamentary committee report said on Tuesday.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report, called Devolution and Exiting the EU: Reconciling differences and building strong relationships, calls for a “full-scale rethink” about how the different governments work together and calls for a review.

“Leaving the EU means that the U.K. will have to change its constitutional arrangements,” the report said.

“Preparations for leaving the EU have exposed inconsistencies in the U.K. Government’s conceptualisation of the devolution settlements,” said the report.

“We urge the Government to make clear its understanding that the reserved powers model of devolution means that powers devolve by default to the devolved institutions and are not conferred by the U.K. Parliament,” it added.

The report also underlined that the “passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was the cause of considerable disagreement between the U.K. Government and devolved Governments.

“This disagreement was intensified by a lack of consultation on the Bill before it was published and introduced to the House of Commons.”

It urged that “all legislation which falls across devolved competencies be shared in draft with the relevant devolved institutions in order to identify and work through any differences before a Bill is published.”

– Brexit

The report also said Brexit has created significant questions around the devolution.

“The U.K.’s forthcoming exit of the EU has raised fundamental questions around sovereignty which were hitherto cracks papered over by the context of EU membership,” it said.

It argued that there is “now a clear sense in the devolved institutions that notions of sovereignty have been altered by the creation and development of devolution since 1998.”

“Leaving the EU will change the UK’s constitutional arrangements, so it needs a re-think. We recommend the government sets out a clear devolution policy for the union as we leave the EU,” said Sir Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the committee.

“Failure to do this just prolongs misunderstandings which are the basis for more conflict. The present machinery for developing inter-governmental relations is flimsy, and there is nothing to give the various parts of England a say," he added, pointing to an asymmetry between the representation of the people of England within the Union compared with the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Ignoring this risks the future relations within the UK.”

Jenkin said they “set out a path to reconciling differences and building strong relationships across the UK, which recognises that many parts of England have more in common with parts of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland than they do with London and the South East.”

– What is devolution?

Devolution means the transfer of power to local governments by a central government.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are the three devolved governments in the U.K.

The U.K. and Scottish governments are currently locked in a legal battle over how 24 powers should be returned from Brussels following Brexit.

The Scottish and Welsh administrations have been critical of how the U.K. government has underrepresented their local interests in Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Jenkins said the “acrimony” with the Welsh and Scottish administrations over the EU Withdrawal Bill was “highly regrettable” and would have been “avoidable” with better consultation.

The U.K. is set to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.