Calls for head of governments meeting about ‘weak and ineffective’ structures

Written by Emily Woods on 4 July 2019 in News

Scottish and Welsh governments pen letter calling for head of governments meeting about intergovernmental relations

Scottish Parliament flags - Image credit: Holyrood

The Scottish and Welsh governments are calling for a meeting of heads of government to be convened “as soon as practicable” to agree to a clear timetable for intergovernmental relations post-Brexit.

The governments have written to UK Cabinet Minister David Lidington, calling for improvements to current “weak and ineffective” government structures, as part of a review into intergovernmental relations announced last year.

Yesterday Lidington released a set of “draft principles for intergovernmental relations”, including: maintaining positive, constructive relations based on mutual respect for the responsibilities of governments across the UK and their shared role in the governance of the UK; building and maintaining trust, sharing information and respecting confidentiality; promoting understanding of and accountability for intergovernmental activity; and resolving disputes according to a clear and agreed process.

However, Scotland’s Constitutional Relations Secretary, Michael Russell, said it was “deeply disappointing” that 15 months after the review was announced, there had been “so little progress”.

“This is urgent. By early November the UK could be embarking on negotiations on future relations with the EU27, or new international trade agreements, or both,” Russell said.

“The Scottish and Welsh governments have made clear how we expect to be involved in these matters, now and in the future. It is absolutely vital that we have agreed the way forward before any UK negotiating mandates are set and any negotiations proceed.

“Whether or not the UK leaves the EU, there is an urgent need for fundamental reform of the relationship between our governments. A heads of government meeting should be convened as soon as possible to agree a programme for change and a clear timetable.”

In the governments’ joint letter to Lidington, they wrote the delay had posed “a serious risk to UK governance, for example by holding up the fruitful collaboration on common frameworks, which so far is making an important contribution to the development of relations”.

“Given this background, it is deeply disappointing that the intergovernmental relations review commissioned fifteen months ago has made so little progress,” it said.

“This, in our view, is almost entirely due to the lack of a commitment to reform on the part of the UK Government.”

The governments called for “reformed machinery” to “bear the weight” of intergovernmental work; a “strengthened dispute resolution process” reflecting discussion on use of independent advice and arbitration, and delivering fair participation; “arrangements which guarantee respect for devolved responsibilities”; and more certainty that decisions made by devolved institutions would be “fully respected” including around legalisation on devolved matters.

They said it was essential the governments were assured delivery of any reforms would be “a top priority for the incoming prime minister and cabinet”.

“It will be not be possible to establish effective working relations without firm commitments to change the current dynamic,” the letter said.

Noting Theresa May was due to give a speech in Scotland today, and potentially announce a review of the way UK Government departments approach devolution, the governments wrote: “We sincerely hope that the remit of any review will focus on the step change required within the UK Government, and will fully respect the boundaries of the devolution settlement.”

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