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Engaging the Devolved Administrations

Volume 645: debated on Monday 23 July 2018

I wish to update the House on recent and ongoing engagement between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations and my intentions for maintaining and strengthening intergovernmental relations moving forward.

The UK Government are committed to strong and effective relations with the devolved Administrations of the United Kingdom. As we leave the EU, and in the years ahead, we must continue to strengthen the bonds that unite us, because ours is the world’s most successful union.

It is imperative that, as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the EU, the needs and interests of each nation are considered and that the UK Government and devolved Administrations benefit from a unified approach wherever possible. That is only possible through the strength of our relationships and continued constructive engagement through a number of fora at ministerial and official level.

As chair of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations (JMC(EN)), I seek to provide through these meetings the opportunity for meaningful engagement at the right time, to focus discussion on the most pertinent issues, understand where positions between the Administrations differ and find and build on common ground. JMC(EN) has met on five occasions so far this year, to discuss the progress of EU negotiations as well as domestic issues arising from the UK’s departure from the European Union. It is my intention to convene another meeting in September and that the Committee should continue to meet regularly as we approach exit day.

Meetings of JMC(EN) have allowed for considerable progress in a number of shared priority areas, including agreement on a set of principles for establishing common UK frameworks for certain powers as they return from the EU. They also enabled an agreement with the Welsh Government on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and the establishment of a new ministerial forum on EU negotiations (MF(EN)) and official-level technical working group sessions to enhance engagement with the devolved Administrations on the UK’s negotiating position. This forum has met on two occasions—in Edinburgh and London—since it was set up in May. The next meeting is due to take place in Cardiff on 1 August and the forum will continue to meet regularly, while remaining flexible to the emerging rhythm of negotiations.

Meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe (JMC(E)) also continue to be held in advance of each European Council meeting, providing a forum to discuss the UK Government position on issues being discussed at the European Council that are of an interest to the devolved Administrations.

Officials from all Administrations continue to work together to take forward EU-exit related programmes of work including on frameworks. Recent frameworks engagement has included a number of substantive multilateral discussions on areas where legislative frameworks are envisaged, in whole or in part. We will continue to discuss these areas with the devolved Administrations over the summer.

UK Government officials worked closely with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to develop the provisions that are now in the EU (Withdrawal) Act. While we were able to reach agreement with the Welsh Government, it is disappointing we were not able to reach that same agreement with the Scottish Government. The Northern Ireland civil service has been kept fully informed of the progress of discussions, but it would be for an incoming Northern Ireland Executive to engage with this agreement. This agreement is without prejudice to the re-establishment of a Northern Ireland Executive and the intergovernmental agreement remains open to incoming Ministers in a future Northern Ireland Executive. The Government remain committed to the full restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, as the Prime Minister clearly set out to the people of Northern Ireland and the political parties, during her visit of 19-20 July.

The UK Government will continue to seek legislative consent for Bills according to the established practices and conventions, listen to and take account of the views of devolved Administrations, and work with the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and Northern Ireland officials on future legislation, just as we always have.

The UK Government and devolved Administrations are also working together to amend laws that would not work appropriately when we leave the EU to ensure we have a fully functioning statute book.

The Cabinet Office works closely with the Scotland Office, the Wales Office and the Northern Ireland Office in overseeing intergovernmental relations and the devolution settlements, as well as in ensuring the UK Government advance the interests of each nation within a stronger United Kingdom. The territorial Secretaries of State engage not only with the devolved Administrations but with stakeholders across the devolved nations, ensuring that the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are fully and effectively represented in the UK Government.

The UK Government also recognise the need to ensure our intergovernmental structures continue to work effectively. The Prime Minister led a discussion on the issue at the plenary meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on 14 March, attended by the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales. Ministers agreed that officials should take forward a review of the existing inter- governmental structures and the underpinning memorandum of understanding and report their findings to the Committee in due course. This work is now under way, with UK Government officials working closely with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations.

My Cabinet colleagues of course continue to engage with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations on a regular basis on a wide range of policy matters relating to EU exit and ongoing Government business.