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MPs urge a rethink of UK devolution

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image copyrightPA
image captionBrexit has caused "a significant erosion of trust" between the UK and Scottish governments, MPs say

The UK government "must rethink devolution" as a result of Brexit, a group of MPs have recommended.

The process of leaving the EU has sparked a series of clashes between UK government ministers and their counterparts in Scotland and Wales.

Westminster's constitutional affairs committee said ministers should engage more and set out policies more clearly.

The Scottish government has also called for a "new arrangement" for devolution in light of the recent Brexit rows.

The UK government says it is committed to devolution and giving a voice to each part of the United Kingdom.

Scottish and Welsh ministers have regularly coordinated their opposition to the UK government's approach to Brexit, with first ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones issuing joint statements and backing each other in the defence of devolved powers.

Earlier in July, ministers united to complain that they had not been given a "meaningful opportunity" to contribute to the UK's negotiating position after "unsatisfactory" talks.

And while the Welsh government eventually came to a deal with UK ministers over the EU Withdrawal Bill, MSPs in Scotland voted not to give their consent to the Westminster legislation - and could do so for future Brexit bills.

Meanwhile, UK law officers have challenged Holyrood's own Brexit bill in the Supreme Court, with judges currently considering whether the legislation was within the devolved parliament's remit.

image copyrightParliament
image captionCommittee chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin wants the UK government to set out clear policies for devolution

Members of the constitutional affairs committee - including Conservative, Labour, SNP and independent MPs - said there had been "a significant erosion of trust between the UK government and the devolved administrations".

They said that because devolution was established in the context of EU membership, Brexit has thrown up a series of new "constitutional questions and ambiguities" which must be addressed. They recommended ministers set out a "devolution policy for the union" to answer some of these questions.

The committee also said it was "highly regrettable that there was little consultation with the devolved governments over the EU Withdrawal Bill", saying this "could have avoided much of the acrimony that was generated".

And the MPs said there was "considerably ambiguity" around the Sewel convention - the principle that Westminster would "not normally" legislate in devolved areas without consent. They recommended that "clear statements of circumstances under which legislative consent is not required by the convention be set out".

'Lack of trust'

The committee's chairman, Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, said more attention also needed to be paid to the place of England and its various regions in the constitution.

He said: "We recommend the government sets out a clear devolution policy for the union as we leave the EU. 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. Ignoring this risks the future relations within the UK."

Ronnie Cowan, the SNP member on the committee, added: "This report highlights the lack of trust, confidence and the divisions within the UK government itself - as well as a system of inter-governmental relations in the UK which is simply not fit for purpose in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.

"'If the Tories had engaged with the devolved administrations after the Brexit referendum and had a grown-up conversation that allowed for input and constructive criticism, then we could be in a very different place."

image captionThe Scottish government has complained about a "power grab" of Holyrood's responsibilities due to Brexit

A UK government spokesman said: "We are committed to securing a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom and have been absolutely clear that when devolved powers are returned from Brussels, the vast majority will go straight to the devolved administrations.

"For the past year, we have been focused on constructively engaging with the devolved administrations and continue to have regular meetings with them, held at all levels, including the Joint Ministerial Committees and Ministerial Forums.

"All sides have committed to continuing to work together, including building common frameworks so that UK businesses won't face a cliff edge on the day we leave the EU."

The Scottish government has previously called for changes to the way devolution operates, saying that "we can't carry on with devolution as it is" in light of MPs passing the Withdrawal Bill without Holyrood's consent.

Scottish Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell said the report "demonstrates that fundamental change is required within the UK government to ensure devolution is respected".

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the report was "superbly clear that reform of inter-governmental relations is overdue".

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