Four-nation Brexit: How the UK and devolved governments should work together on leaving the EU


By Akash Paun and George Miller (Institute of Government)

Following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (EU), the Institute for Government has launched a major programme of work looking at the negotiations, the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the impact of Brexit on the UK as a union.

Visit to keep up to date with the Institute’s Brexit papers, blogs and briefs, read media and broadcast coverage, and find out about events.

On 24 October 2016, the Prime Minister and her counterparts from Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast convene in London for a summit to discuss Brexit. This meeting offers the first proper chance to assess the willingness and ability of the four governments of the UK to find agreement on the way forward. Reaching consensus will not be an easy task. Around the table will be an English Tory, a Scottish nationalist, a Welsh socialist, an Ulster unionist and (since Northern Ireland is represented by both halves of its coalition) an
Irish republican. There is little political common ground between these leaders on the EU, the future of the UK or almost anything else.

So as with the dog walking on its hind legs, perhaps we should be impressed if the four governments manage to work together at all, rather than overly critical of how skilfully they perform the task. But the stakes are high. If it proves impossible to find consensus and the dog topples over after a few tentative steps, the result may be a serious breakdown in relations between the four governments (and nations) of the UK.

Negotiating the terms of Brexit with the EU will be a highly complex task and, from a UK Government perspective, it would simplify matters if the existence of the devolved governments could be ignored. But Brexit cannot be treated as a simple matter of foreign relations. Leaving the EU will have a significant impact on the powers and budgets of the devolved bodies. This means the devolved parliaments will almost certainly seek to vote at some point on whether to give consent to the terms of Brexit.

Imposing a Brexit settlement in the absence of consent from the devolved bodies may be legally possible, given that the UK Parliament remains sovereign. However, this would run contrary to convention and to the spirit of devolution, which recognises the right of the three devolved nations to determine their own form of government. It would also be a reckless strategy for a government committed to the Union, since it would seriously undermine relationships between the four governments, and increase the chances of Scottish independence and rifts in Northern Ireland’s fragile power-sharing arrangements.

The devolved governments should be treated as partners in the Brexit process, not as mere consultees alongside business or other lobby groups. However, this does not mean the four governments of the UK will have equal influence. The UK Government will lead the Brexit process, and Westminster will retain the right to have the final say.

Now that a firm deadline for triggering Article 50 has been set, the governments must collectively step up a gear and establish the necessary systems for joint working on this issue. Working in partnership in this way will naturally require all sides to compromise. If agreement proves elusive, then each of the four governments should be held to account for their contribution to this failure.

Recent developments have not been reassuring. The Prime Minister initially committed to agreeing on ‘a UK approach and objectives’ before Article 50 is invoked, but has now announced that the trigger will be pulled by March 2017 regardless, and that negotiations are for her government alone. And the Scottish First Minister has set her government on a collision course with Westminster by publishing a bill to hold a second independence referendum. It is possible that, in the end, consensus will not be found on a four-nation Brexit deal. In that case, the Scottish people may indeed have to choose between their
membership of the UK and the EU. But this is not inevitable.

In this paper we outline the steps that we believe are required, starting from today, to prevent political spats from escalating into a full-blown constitutional crisis. The paper addresses four questions about cooperation between the four governments on Brexit: What is needed? What has happened so far? What is the constitutional position? What is the scale of the challenge?

To read the entire breafing paper click here.

The C-Blawg would like to re-post and share this very interesting and important briefing paper on Brexit and its implementantion published by the Institute of Government. 

All data and information provided in this paper were gathered and written by the Institute of Government and we do not wish to re-post its content as our own. We feel the urge to share its content as we estimate its importance. 

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