An Irish “conversation” is one thing, but what role for Stormont in the British conversation?

The Institute for Government is a think tank that works closely with government. It reports that turf wars are already costing tens of millions. Its expert on devolution Akash Paun blogs that Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont should get their act together to pool  their influence at the centre. Following exchanges over an Irish “conversation,” is Stormont up to it where it matters most?

It is unlikely the UK’s four governments will come together as equal partners, with parity of influence over the British negotiating strategy. According to the devolution legislation, relations with the European Union are a matter for Westminster, so the British Government can pursue the policy of Brexit without reaching consensus with the devolved governments.

But this does not mean the devolved governments can be treated as just another stakeholder to be consulted, like the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) or the National Farmers Union. Withdrawal from the EU will affect many areas of devolved policy and change the rights of citizens of the devolved nations, as well as ending devolved access to EU funding for agricultural support, regional development and research.

The four governments must therefore work together, even if the UK Government retains its right ultimately to make the final decision on negotiating priorities. A joint secretariat of civil servants from across the UK should be created to support the process. And the workings of any intergovernmental forums established to work out the UK approach to Brexit must be transparent, so that everyone can exercise appropriate scrutiny.

Outright rejection of the terms of Brexit by one of the devolved bodies would take the country into dangerous territory. For Westminster to ignore the Scottish Parliament (or another devolved assembly) and press ahead regardless would be to flout established convention, triggering a potential constitutional crisis as shared understanding of the ‘rules of the game’ break down.

But the UK Government is unlikely to concede a veto power to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland over the terms of Brexit, since that could weaken their hand in both levels of negotiations – with the EU and with the devolved nations. Also, since Article 50 sets a two-year limit on negotiations, if the UK ultimately fails to reach internal consensus about the terms of Brexit before time runs out,  it would risk exiting without any negotiated terms.


From the Brief  ( a Times online section) 

 The English High Court forces government to reveal its Article 50 hand

The Government’s case disclosed

 One of the groups trying to use the courts to force a House of Commons vote on when and how the UK should trigger the mechanism for leaving the EU has won the right to publish the government’s objections.

Sitting in the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court, Mr Justice Cranston ruled that the parties were not prohibited from publishing either side’s skeleton arguments. Ministers had argued for the submissions regarding Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon – the trigger mechanism – to remain confidential before the full hearing next month.

The lawyer acting for the so-called people’s challenge, John Halford, a partner at Bindmans, a London law firm, said that the ruling allowed “a floodlight to be shone on the government’s secret reasons for believing it alone can bring about Brexit without any meaningful parliamentary scrutiny”.

He continued: “Those who were unsettled by the government’s insistence on its defence being kept secret, will now be surprised by the contents, including submissions that Brexit has nothing constitutionally to do with the Scottish and Northern Ireland devolved governments, that parliament ‘clearly understood’ it was surrendering any role it might have in Brexit by passing the EU Referendum Act, that it has no control over making and withdrawal from treaties and that individuals can have fundamental rights conferred by Acts of parliament stripped away if and when the executive withdraws from the treaties on which they are based”.

The plaintiff’s case




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  • Kevin Breslin

    As I said before the DUP don’t want the Irish conversation, don’t want the Northern Irish conversation … they are not going to want the British conversation either.

  • Declan Doyle

    The DUP are stuck between a rock and a rock. The supported Brexit believing it would never happen. Now, they have to either line up behind May and co and risk the whip lash of the consequences at home after negotiations are complete. Or, they can come together with all interested parties In Ireland and fight for a strong deal as a united force, that however is all a little but too taigey. With a recent poll showing support for irish unity is growing, Arlene must be aware that she played the wrong card with nothing hidden up her sleeve.

  • Zig70

    Some United Kingdom, even if the devolved regions worked together it would be no more than a request.

  • Nevin

    Here’s a snippet from the HoC debate on September 5:

    Nigel Dodds: “.. can the Secretary of State make it clear that he will work closely with Ministers in Northern Ireland? Will he also make it clear that that work will not just be at ministerial level, but that officials in his Department will work very closely with officials in the Executive Office, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department for the Economy and others, to ensure we make a success of this project?

    David Davis: “I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that that is already happening. ..”

    In other words, it’s a multi-layered conversation.

  • Jollyraj

    The problem with an ‘Irish conversation’ is that by this stage of the game it is much like an endlessly repeating feedback loop.

    The Irish Republican has in recent decades become the classic pub bore on a subject that everyone else has long become tired of. The old ‘UI’ saw is a conversation that has played itself out and never goes anywhere because there is nowhere else for it to go.

  • hotdogx

    Unionism will blindly continue on as if nothing has happened, emotionally attached to the uk blindingly implimenting the policies of south east England here, as a result, there will be a major failure here, so either Europe will support Ireland or not, that will be the real deciding factor in my opinion. How bad will things get in NI compared to the republic. This will help those small U unionists make the right decision. Imagine if the EU would assist a reunification financially, it would give strong support to Nationalists & would guarantee the future of public employees in NI. This is the biggest obstacle for Nationalism. Unionism wants to keep NI poor so that the union stays. So Will the EU treat Ireland well & respect our interests or not, that is the Real question!!!!
    I believe Europe would not risk creating eurosceptics in Ireland. Europe wants the Uk to pay for its Brexit decision, that payment may just come as the territory that is NI staying in Europe as part of a UI.

  • Declan Doyle

    Absolutely. Its becoming clear that the mainland are not going to bend very far to accomodate london. Despite arguments that some eu countries will be hit harder in terms of trade, it appears that Europe are willing to make that sacrifice rather than give Britain an easy out; they do not want to risk further exits.

    Unionism never learns it seems, even going so far as to change the name of a boat from Irish to English. Such insecurity, Incredible stuff. Franco’s friends.

  • hotdogx

    Rember guys, unionism passes into a minority this year, according to the census, not some poll on 1000 people.
    This means that any future UI has to be based on a sound economic argument. This is a huge opportunity for the Irish to reunite on good terms. Support from the EU copper fastens financial stability. The only way a UI can come about by popular vote is:
    1 a huge majority for (20 years off)
    2 excellent economic argument. (This could happen sooner than we think)

    Getting support from Europe and the Irish government should be the first priority.
    Farm payments for ex, all benifits of the EU must be sold as part of the UI, a solid green paper on Unity must include all of these guarantees, from the bosses in Europe and the Irish government.
    If NI is not weaned off the public sector pay roll nothing may happen and this nationalist project launch window will be missed!!!!
    I hope SF, SDLP & above all FF are listening (they must organize north NOW)

  • Jollyraj

    “You may want to point your cutting observations on how the outside world views people in the mirror old chum”

    Not quite sure what you mean. Everyone sees the fellow in the mirror just the way they wish to. Heck, even Adams said “I think I’m a nice guy”. One of the most surprising things I personally ever heard a politician say – I’d always assumed he was driven by self-loathing. But there you go.

    “The Unionists are the brexiteers in this one.” Hmm….broadly, yes, but perhaps the only positive thing about Brexit was that (for once) people didn’t vote along sectarian lines to neae the usual extent. I’m a remain man myself. Didn’t want to Brexit then, don’t want to now. But I expect we will.

    “They have never achieved anything in EU terms”

    Not quite sure what this means either. Can you clarify. As noted above, I’m firmly on the side of remaining in Europe, in the UK. But since you assume all unionists aren’t, your taunt is pretty toothless if aimed at Brexiteers.

    “(neither really has the Northern Nationalist…”

    Well done them, then. Again, one suspects you have much thinking in common with the Brexiteers there.

    Anyway, your response is a bit too muddled to properly respond to. If you can tidy it up we might talk.

  • Nevin

    Here’s a little bit more from David Davis in that debate:

    As to the next steps, the Department’s task is clear. We are undertaking two broad areas of work. First, given that we are determined to build national consensus, we will listen and talk to as many organisations, companies and institutions as possible—from large plcs to small businesses, and from the devolved Administrations to councils, local government associations and major metropolitan bodies.

    We are already fully engaged with the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure a UK-wide approach to our negotiations. The Prime Minister met the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern ​Ireland in July. Last week, I visited Northern Ireland for meetings with its political leaders, where I reiterated our determination that there will be no return to the hard borders of the past. I will visit Scotland and Wales soon.

    My ministerial colleagues and I have also discussed the next steps with a range of organisations. My first meeting was with the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, followed by key business groups, representatives of the universities and the charitable sector, and farming and fisheries organisations. But that is just the start. In the weeks ahead, we will speak to as many other firms, organisations and bodies as possible—research institutes, regional and national groups, and businesses up and down the country—to establish their priorities and the opportunities for the whole of the UK. As part of that exercise I can announce that we will be holding roundtables with stakeholders in a series of sectors, to ensure that all views are reflected in our analysis of the options for the UK.

  • Tochais Siorai

    ‘….Rember (sic) guys, unionism passes into a minority this year’

    It seems to be the case that Protestantism (or those declaring as Protestants) will pass into a minority this year..

    Unionism however, like Nationalism is a little more subjective.

  • eamoncorbett

    The old UI discussion you speak of would not exist if Nationalists enjoyed the same relationship with the Republic as Unionists enjoy with Britain . That is the basic flaw in the GFA , it’s the reason we have the 2 extremes in government , hardly any Nationalist voice in Wesminster and constant bickering on the constitutional issue . It is in my opinion the main reason NI will never see stable government . The border or lack of it overrides all political discourse . Provocation is the order of the day whether it’s changing names on patrol vessels or water meter caps or the Maize site .
    You are correct about a UI not being the solution to the problem but surely you can see from an historical point of view the UK solution hasn’t been a roaring success either.

  • eamoncorbett

    The GFA needs changing before any discussions happen especially with regards to relationships on these islands , have a quick read of my posting above.

  • Croiteir

    50% +1 is all that is needed

  • Tarlas

    blog by George Miller (Institute for Government) re ‘legislative consent convention’

    “When Westminster legislates in devolved areas, ‘legislative
    consent motions’ are passed. This process may come into play to enable
    Westminster to implement Brexit. The Northern Ireland Assembly has denied
    consent only once, when it voted in December 2015 to reject provisions of the
    Enterprise Bill extending public service exit payment caps to Northern Ireland.”

    Could Unionism be cajoled enough by Westminister ; to get a Brexit consent motion through the NI Assembly.

  • 05OCT68

    No downside for the DUP they’ll just play to the right, renaming a boat from Irish to English for example.

  • Reader

    I note that since you said that, Nevin has posted a reference to questions by Nigel Dodds at Westminster that show your last assertion is wrong.
    However, for educational purposes, I am interested in your reasoning (or whatever else it was that you used to reach your conclusion)

  • Kevin Breslin

    The conversation I’m talking about is a civic one, the real people who actually have to deal with the decisions of politicians.

    So no, the DUP don’t want to hear from English, Scottish or Welsh concerned citizens about changes … as much as they don’t want to hear from Northern Irish or Irish citizens.

    As far as I’m concerned on this issue the DUP surrender to direct rule to the point of EVNIL as opposed to EVEL (so long as it doesn’t steer to abortion or equal marriage) entirely and probably have even less to contribute to these matters than the British government do, because Northern Ireland is such an inconvenient constituency.

    They will be due a wake-up call from their voters if they maintain this strategy.

  • hotdogx

    We need the border poll first, we will only get it if the Irish government believes there is a possibility of 50+1. The green paper on UI will have to prepared, and all this while Brexit is going on and negotiate with the EU, we are going to need somebody good in the Taoiseach seat, we already have a good president.

  • Reader

    Kevin Breslin: The conversation I’m talking about is a civic one, the real people who actually have to deal with the decisions of politicians.
    Since that wasn’t what the original article was about – neither the essay by Akash nor the wrapper or title from Brian – wouldn’t it have been helpful if you had said you were changing the subject?
    And so, in terms of the original article, do you agree that the DUP does indeed want to engage in the “British Converstion”; closely, actively and at multiple levels? And in fact SF are likely to be rather more hesitant.
    Also, your list of exceptions to EVNIL is nowhere near long enough – you left out the sex industry, blood donors, grammar schools, the Irish language and in fact hundreds of other devolved competencies. In fact, most matters are devolved, aren’t they? Is there any evidence that the DUP wants to return *any* devolved power to Westminster besides the sole exception of the welfare budget?

  • Kevin Breslin

    And so, in terms of the original article, do you agree that the DUP does indeed want to engage in the “British Converstion”; closely, actively and at multiple levels?

    No I don’t agree that the DUP wants to engage with the “British conversation”, I think they simply want to focus on Parliament and would be bought off with Privy Council status and other trinkets than face an English business person facing job-risking tariffs, disruption and uncertainty all so overpaid politicians can be jingoists.

    I would honestly think Sinn Féin would be far more likely to engage the general public in England, Scotland and Wales than the Democratic Unionists on this issue.

    I’m happy to stand corrected but in my opinion regardless of the result of this referendum, (even if Remain had won), I would severely doubt the DUP would do anything to give any attention to any civic conservation within Great Britain.

    ” Is there any evidence that the DUP wants to return *any* devolved power to Westminster besides the sole exception of the welfare budget?”

    You’ve highlighted one example, when the farm subsidies issues fail to add up I think the DUP will be happy to return agriculture issue to Westminster. So if they do that, then pretty much the only “repatriated” power from Brussels that could go to Stormont goes back to an outside body. Effectively the DUP will have successfully weakened Stormont as the stealth direct rule party they are.

    The blood donor issue the leader of the DUP accepts the English legal stance now. On the Irish language, there is still an English voted on law discriminating against Irish in NI courts and the DUP still backs that.

    I would argue that there are very few issues that the DUP opposes English laws upon these days.