The anatomy of a Brexit powergrab
In January this year, the Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, was questioned about why the UK Government hadn’t yet tabled amendments to the devolution section of the EU(Withdrawal) Bill.
Amendments to the bill that would have protected devolution were debated in the House of Commons but were voted down by the Tories, including Scottish Tory MPs.
The Government is about to amend the bill but the changes that are going to be made have not been agreed with the devolved administrations.
They are going to forge ahead with a plan that the Welsh and Scottish administrations have grave concerns about. This move makes a mockery of Mundell’s comments about waiting until a consensus could be reached.
The UK Government plan is to take 24 currently devolved powers under the control of Westminster.
Most of the powers on the list are there so that the UK can negotiate trade deals without having to take into account the interests of the devolved administrations.
They want to ensure standards and regulations are the same across the UK internal market. The Scottish and Welsh governments agree this needs to be the case. However, the devolved administrations argue that this can be done while protecting devolution by agreeing on joint frameworks.
The UK plan means that the UK government will decide on laws impacting already devolved competencies without needing the consent of the devolved administrations. This is worrying because it goes against the spirit of the Acts of Parliament that set up the devolved administrations. Also, many worry that those who supported Brexit, and who are now in positions of power, want to reduce standards in areas such as food safety and the environment. That they will negotiate trade deals that will open up the door to the privatisation of the NHS, an erosion of workers rights or that industries that thrive in Scotland/Wales will be used as bargaining chips to secure good deals for city bankers.
It has also emerged this week that 12 powers that were previously designated as shared between the devolved administrations and Westminster have been reclassified as reserved to London.
The Constitution Minister, Chloe Smith, wrote to the Prime Minister and other senior cabinet members explaining this last minute change of tact from the UK government.
The list of 12 powers includes geographical food labelling which we already know the US government has been urging the UK government to drop as part of a trade deal. A move which would be an obvious threat to brands like the Scottish whisky industry and Welsh lamb.
In response to all of this, Michael Russell, the Scottish government Brexit minister has written the following letter to MSPs.
In it, he expresses the gravity of the situation with regards to the devolution settlement.
At the start of the blog, I mentioned that the Scottish Secretary had vowed to find consensus between all sides of the debate.
And finding consensus here doesn’t sound that complicated. All that needs to be done is to leave the powers where they are and to agree on common-frameworks for those powers. However, the truth is that the government intends to force through a bill that plunders powers and puts devolved interests at risk.
We know that Brexit is going to negatively impact the economies of the devolved regions but this impact will be worse if there isn’t a mechanism for those administrations to influence future trade deals.
Moreover, the UK government is in the process of a much larger negotiation than the one it has just botched with Wales and Scotland. If they can’t find a solution to this fairly simple issue then how are they going to negotiate an amicable and successful Brexit deal?
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