Brexit: The impacts of and the implications for devolution in the UK
This blog post summarises Lloyd Austin’s (RSPB Scotland) contributions to the Brexit & Environment roundtable organised by the British Academy & EUrefEnv on 30 January 2017. It sets out major devolution challenges for Brexit in terms of politics, repatriated powers and finances.
“Leaving the EU will have a significant impact on the powers and budgets of the devolved bodies…Brexit is likely to reopen questions about the distribution of powers between central and devolved government, and the funding arrangements for devolution” – Institute for Government, 2016
The result of the UK’s referendum on membership of the EU has led to the formation of a new UK Government, committed to leaving the bloc. Yet, the UK has, in many areas of public policy, never been a unitary state – although, in other areas it is or is seen as such.When the UK, in its current form, was created in 1922, the (new) province of Northern Ireland was subject to devolved Government – until the introduction of ‘direct rule’ in the 1970s. Devolved government, of another (power-sharing) form was returned to Northern Ireland by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (becoming effective in Dec 1999). Meanwhile, the Labour Government also introduced (different) devolution schemes for Wales and Scotland in 1998. These became effective in July 1999 and have both been enhanced by subsequent, further changes (after various Commissions); all also supported by other UK parties. In addition, the Mayor of London and, increasingly, other city mayors in England are exercising administrative devolution in some policy areas.This constitutional “jigsaw” that constitutes the UK means that, whatever arrangements are developed to implement “Brexit”, they will be both influenced by, and impact on, these devolution settlements. These may be best described under the following headings:
- ‘Repatriated’ powers – including both intra-UK arrangements and new opportunities in devolved policy and legislation; and
Each of the devolved parliaments/assemblies, and their respective Governments, are currently controlled by political parties different to that forming the UK Government – and their approaches to the EU and the referendum result differ markedly. The different party political approaches are exacerbated by the differential results in the referendum (England and Wales had a ‘Leave’ majority, whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland had a ‘Remain’ majority).
Devolved policy and legislation
In addition to these challenges, the devolved administrations have already indicated a likelihood to adopt different approaches to that of the UK Government (with consequent impact on intra-UK arrangements). For instance, the Scottish Government is committed to maintaining EU-like standards of environmental regulation (and has even hinted that it may “mirror” future developments, post-Brexit). By contrast, while the UK Government (for England/reserved matters) has suggested that regulations will be “copied across” initially, there is not commitment to the future beyond the opportunity for review – amid calls from some for de-regulation.
The expenditure of EU originating funds around the UK has not followed the same pattern of other domestic public expenditure. For instance, around 18% of the UK’s CAP monies are paid to farmers and crofters in Scotland. This compares to the “normal” Barnett formula of c.9% for other forms of public expenditure. Likewise, Government, agencies and NGOs (in various combinations) have received a considerably greater than proportionate share of LIFE funding. These disparities, however, reflect the policy objectives of these funding schemes – for instance, Scotland has a far higher area of “less favoured areas” attracting greater agricultural support, as well as far more (and greater area) of classified SPAs/SACs (the conservation sites at which the LIFE fund is directed).Irrespective of intra-UK arrangements for policy and legislation, the re-allocation of funds from EU to domestic expenditure will need to address these disparities and, if changes are made, manage those.
The constitutional “jigsaw” that constitutes the UK means that, whatever arrangements are developed to implement “Brexit”, they will be both influenced by, and impact on, these devolution settlements. The party political make up of devolved Parliaments/Governments and their approaches to the EU and the issue of Brexit differ markedly from the UK Government, and the Brexit process will both exacerbate tensions and result in changes to the devolution arrangements, from which the devolved administrations will seek to ‘gain’.Even without political tensions, there will need to be new arrangements for intra-UK co-ordination and co-operation and/or the introduction of/agreement on some form of common framework for some issues. Beyond this, the devolved administrations will need to develop new policy and new capacity in many areas where, previously, this was provided by an EU framework. This challenge will be further exacerbated by the need to address funding issues – as the current use and distribution of EU funds, across the UK, is not subject to the same systems (Barnett formula etc) as is domestic expenditure.