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
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”.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London