‘Clear need to reset relations across union after Brexit and Covid’

A report focused on how to strengthen the union has been published by a House of Lords committee.

‘Clear need to reset relations across union after Brexit and Covid’ iStock

There is a ‘clear need and opportunity’ to reset relations between the devolved nations after the challenges of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, according to a House of Lords report.

The UK Government must also “articulate a compelling vision and narrative” for the UK in the 21st century, the report suggests.

The document, ‘Respect and Co-operation: Building a Stronger Union for the 21st century’, was produced by members of the Lords’ Constitution Committee.

Amongst the committee’s recommendations, they say that the Barnett formula should be reformed so there is a fairer allocation of funding between the four nations of the UK.

And the committee suggests that in order to rebuild trust and partnership, the devolved administrations should have a greater role in the governance of the Shared Prosperity Fund, including decisions about local priorities and the allocation of funding. 

On the Sewel Convention, the committee said that except from in exceptional circumstances, the UK Government should not seek to legislate in devolved areas without consent.

They noted that there should be greater accountability from the UK Government about its approach on the issue.

Stating their opinion that the Prime Minister has a “critical role” to play in making new intergovernmental structures a success, the committee indicated that the Government’s engagement with the devolved nations is also required.

The report also raised concerns over the wide-ranging portfolio of Michael Gove – who has responsibility for intergovernmental relations as well as being the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities.

Gove’s wider responsibilities “risk undermining its focus on this important area”, Peers said.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton, chair of the Constitution Committee, explained that a more co-operative union requires good faith and for a constructive approach to be taken.

“The United Kingdom, the union, marks its centenary in 2022,” she said.

“After the challenges of Brexit and Covid-19 there is a clear need and a clear opportunity to reset relationships between its constituent parts to achieve a better functioning union.

“This will help us to keep pace with the rapid changes and many challenges that confront all of us and which every layer of government will have to address in the 21st century. 

“The UK Government needs to articulate a compelling vision and narrative for the United Kingdom in the 21st century.

“The committee’s vision is of a more co-operative union based on a renewed sense of respect and partnership between the different layers of government and a new emphasis on shared governance in the interests of all its citizens.

“But for this to be a success requires good faith and a constructive approach from central, devolved and local government.”

The Peer outlined the belief of the committee that the strength of the union has been its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

“She said: We believe a significant culture change is required in Whitehall, including the end of its top-down mindset.

“This will be critical if the new intergovernmental arrangements and any extension of devolution across England is to be a success.

“Fostering greater respect and co-operation between Whitehall and the different parts of the United Kingdom will be even more important in strengthening the union.

“We believe that the union’s strength historically has been its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

“The union should continue to do so, so it can achieve its full potential in the 21st century and fully demonstrate its benefits to all its nations and regions.” 

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard described the report as “disappointingly one-sided”, saying the committee had “made up their minds that the union was unquestionably a good thing before they even heard their first witness”.

A spokeswoman for the UK Government said: “The UK Government is committed to working with the devolved governments to deliver for people all over the United Kingdom.

“Our successful world-leading vaccine rollout involved co-operation across the UK, and devolved governments have just been provided their largest real-terms annual funding settlement since devolution over 20 years ago.

“Last week we also published a landmark agreement with the devolved governments on ways of working, which includes a Prime Minister-chaired council where the Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive can raise any issues to tackle co-operatively.

“This will be based on the principles of mutual respect and builds upon years of existing co-operation.”

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