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Common Policy Frameworks: Devolved Administrations

Volume 637: debated on Thursday 15 March 2018

13. What discussions he has had with the devolved Administrations on mechanisms to agree common policy frameworks as the UK leaves the EU. (904391)

The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments have agreed a set of principles for how we approach the creation of common frameworks. We have made significant progress together over the past few months in our intensive discussions and analysis of what future frameworks should look like. The discussions have been guided by the principles agreed in October and report to the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations, which the Northern Ireland civil service also attends. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the substantial amendment that we have tabled to clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, under which the vast majority of powers returning from Brussels will flow directly to the devolved Administrations by default.

I do indeed welcome the amendment to the clause 11 that has appeared in the other place, and I am grateful for this opportunity to agree with my hon. Friend. Will he assure the House that Brexit, far from undermining the devolution settlement, will in fact lead to a significant increase in decision-making powers in Holyrood and the other devolved Administrations?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has pressed us hard on this issue already. The analysis that we published last Friday shows that we are looking at legislative frameworks only in a small minority of areas, and legislation may be required only in relation to a few specific elements. In Scotland, our current analysis indicates that 83 out of 107 powers returning from Brussels will pass directly to Edinburgh on exit. Similarly, the majority of powers for Wales and Northern Ireland will flow directly to Cardiff and Belfast.

It is interesting that it took the Government six months to come up with a single amendment to a Bill that threatens to destroy the devolution settlement, but their colleagues in the Scottish Tory party took less than a week to come up with 100 wrecking amendments to a Bill designed to protect the settlement.

Given that the question was about the mechanisms to agree common policy frameworks, will the Minister clarify what the procedure will be if the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill goes through with the Government’s amendment to clause 11? Does the amendment guarantee that common policy frameworks must be agreed by all four nations working as a partnership of equals, or does it still give the UK Government the power to impose the frameworks against the will of the devolved nations?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman congratulates our Scottish colleagues on their work rate. We are, of course, still seeking consent for the Bill, and discussions to achieve that continue. The UK Government have responsibility for protecting the UK’s common market. We cannot have our ability to take action restricted, so we do not think it right for any devolved Administration effectively to have a veto on common frameworks. The UK and the devolved Administrations have always been clear that we will need common frameworks once we leave the EU to make it simple for businesses from different parts of the UK to trade with each other and to help the UK to fulfil its international obligations. The conversation is ongoing, and we will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to secure an outcome that is in the best interests of every part of the UK.

I note the criticism of the Scottish National party, the Scottish Labour party, the Scottish Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Government of Northern Ireland—and the Government of the Republic of Ireland, for that matter—for all failing to fall into step with the United Kingdom Government. Is it not a fact that, despite promises of a partnership of equals, the Government’s preferred legislation will still allow a power grab by Westminster against the devolved nations? It looks like a power grab; it reads like a power grab; and it certainly smells like a power grab. Why will the Government not admit that it is a power grab?

It is absolutely clear that not a single power that the devolved Administrations currently have would be taken away or in any way affected by this Bill. We are talking about a significant increase in the powers, as they return from Brussels, for each of the devolved Administrations. I think that is something that all parties should welcome.

Yesterday, following the JMCEN, the First Minister of Scotland said of the Scottish Government:

“We can’t have our powers restricted or reduced”.

Does my hon. Friend recognise the irony in that, given that the only people who are willing to reduce the powers of the Scottish Parliament are those in the SNP, whose policy continues to be that those powers should remain in Brussels instead of coming back to the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I continue to hope that we will all be able to come together to ensure that the powers of each of the devolved Administrations are increased through this process and that we will all be able to work together to secure the prosperity of the UK—Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.