On the 20th anniversary of UK devolution, a new report by the Institute for Government says Brexit has put the relationship between the UK nations under serious pressure – but there are other big unresolved questions too.
The report, Devolution at 20 is a comprehensive analysis of how devolution has worked in the UK. The authors argue that devolution has been a qualified success in its first two decades.
The devolved institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are now established as permanent features of the UK constitution, while devolution has allowed greater democratic expression and policy innovation in all three nations.
However, the report identifies big challenges for the future of devolution:
The UK Government and devolved administrations must agree on how to manage the powers repatriated from Brussels because of Brexit.
The UK and devolved governments have clashed over the rules of their relationship when Westminster has legislated without devolved consent.
Funding arrangements of the devolved nations have grown complex and incoherent.
The 2017 collapse of power-sharing in Stormont has destroyed democratic accountability, and paralysed policy making.
The Welsh Assembly has too few members to manage its new responsibilities for legislation well.
England has largely been ignored in the devolution process.
There has been too little consideration of the future of the UK as a whole while devolution has advanced in different parts of the country. The lack of guiding principles has led to disagreement about the post-devolution constitution. Brexit has made it more urgent that governments and political parties address these big questions.
Akash Paun, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Government and co-author of the report said: “The UK constitution has shown an impressive ability to adapt to pressures in each nation as they have arisen. But if these strains are not addressed, relations between the nations of the UK could deteriorate, putting the stability of the Union at risk.”
Aron Cheung, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Government and co-author of the report, said: “Devolution has evolved in its first two decades and Brexit means further change is inevitable. The goal in the third decade of devolution should be to stabilise the constitution and enable each nation to focus on other issues such as public services and the economy.”
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