This Government was elected with a clear mandate to deliver the result of the 2016 referendum, and to ensure that the UK ratifies the deal reached by the Prime Minister, before the UK leaves the European Union on the 31 January.
The Government have sought, in line with the Sewel convention, legislative consent from the devolved legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
It is important to note that despite the argument of some, the devolved legislatures have not been asked to consent to Brexit overall. In line with the devolution settlements, they have been asked to consent to the specific parts of the Bill that fall within devolved competence, or otherwise engage the legislative consent process.
It is therefore disappointing that the three devolved legislatures have refused to agree a legislative consent motion (LCM) for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
We recognise that taking the Bill to Royal Assent without the consent of the devolved legislatures is a significant decision and it is one that we have not taken lightly. However, it is in line with the Sewel convention. It is also necessary in order to ensure that all parts of the UK have the powers required to meet our obligations in the withdrawal agreement. These include important protections for EU and UK citizens’ rights as we leave the EU.
The Sewel convention—to which the Government remain committed—states that the UK Parliament “will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent” of the relevant devolved legislatures. The circumstances of our departure from the EU, following the 2016 referendum, are not normal; they are unique.
At every stage of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, the UK Government have demonstrated their enduring commitment and respect for the Sewel convention and the principles that underpin our constitutional arrangements.
The practices and procedures that have developed to deliver the Sewel convention encourage the UK Government to consult with the devolved administrations on legislation at an early stage to ensure their views are taken into account.
Through extensive consultation and engagement it has respected the spirit and the letter of the devolution settlement. Changes have been made to recognise the valid concerns of our partners in the Scottish and Welsh Governments. We have also, during the absence of the Executive, worked closely with the Northern Ireland civil service.
Despite the Government’s efforts, it is unfortunate that common ground could not be found on all elements.
We will continue to respect and uphold the Sewel convention and the devolution settlements going forward.
We will also continue to engage with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, as well as the newly formed Northern Ireland Executive, as we negotiate our future relationship with the EU.