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by Louise Wilson
13 March 2024
Political differences ‘hamper’ Scottish-UK post-Brexit relationships, report finds

Humza Yousaf has backed an independence Scotland rejoining the EU | Alamy

Political differences ‘hamper’ Scottish-UK post-Brexit relationships, report finds

Political differences between the Scottish and UK governments have hampered the effectiveness of new structures set up post-Brexit to manage intergovernmental relationships, a new report has found.

Over four years on from the UK’s exit from the European Union, a report from thinktank UK in a Changing Europe has concluded there is a lack of a strategic vision from the UK Government on policymaking.

It warns there is a lack of capacity within devolved governments to administer new functions that were previously EU decisions which has made delivery “challenging”.

And the report says a “constructive, cooperative approach” is still missing when it comes to the relationship between UK and devolved governments.

Jill Rutter, co-author of the report, said: “The [UK] Government has never set a clear strategic direction for how it wants the UK to operate outside the EU. That vacuum means that the shape of the post-Brexit state is only now beginning to emerge piecemeal through unconnected decisions often forced by external constraints.”

The report highlights trust between governments was damaged throughout the exit negotiation process, with the relationship between the Scottish and UK governments being “distinctly acrimonious”.

And while new frameworks for managing intergovernmental relations have been established, “a corresponding shift in mindset is still lacking,” it says.

It highlights the recent failure on setting up a deposit return scheme in Scotland as one example of issues between the governments, adding this proves processes “still need some refinement when it comes to resolving intergovernmental policy disagreements”.

On the Internal Market Act (IMA) – which late last year MSPs voted to scrap – the report says it allows for “less flexibility than the EU equivalent”.

It also says this method of managing the UK Government’s relationship with devolved administrations runs counter to the approach taken within the common frameworks, a further indication of a lack of consistency in the post-Brexit vision for the Union.

Speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee earlier this week, constitution secretary Angus Robertson accused the UK Government of taking an “increasingly interventionist approach” to devolution.

He said: “This is not a Scotland-specific issue. It is something that is reflective of a state of mind in Whitehall, which is that the devolved administrations are to be managed, are to be put in their place.

“The bottom line is that the UK Government does not take intergovernmental relationships seriously.”

More broadly, the report says many post-Brexit regimes remain incomplete – such as a new farm payments scheme of the implementation of checks at the GB-EU border – and the operation of the IMA in Northern Ireland is a “continuing source of friction”.

It also says the UK has yet to adjust to being a third country actor in Brussels and there is a lack of strategy for maximising influence.

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