The House of Lords European Union Committee has published their report on the fundamental constitutions challenges for the UK and its devolution settlements with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland covering competencies including environmental issues, economy and funding.
The report looks ta the impact of UK withdrawal from the EU on the UK’s devolution settlements which, it acknowledges, is one of the most technically complex and politically contentious elements of the Brexit debate.
In the absence of changes to the devolution settlements, responsibility for policy areas that are already devolved, but are in practice exercised largely at EU level, principally; agriculture, fisheries and the environment, would fall automatically to the devolved jurisdictions at the moment of Brexit.
This situation will lead to an increased risk of political clashes between the devolved administrations and the UK Government in its responsibility for negotiating international agreements, which may overlap with devolved competences. There will, also, be the potential for regulatory divergence, for instance in environmental standards, creating intra-UK barriers to trade.
Whilst the report identifies cross-cutting environmental issues in many areas and with an emphasis on environmental protection and regulation, the main analysis is in relation to “The environment, agriculture and fisheries” (Paragraphs 216 – 224).
The concern in these three areas are what form the full exercise of the devolved competence will take, without the guiding hand of the EU, & that it will not necessarily be straightforward.
As reported elsewhere, on the day of Brexit, competences currently exercised at EU level will, by default, be exercised in accordance with these pre-existing statutory provisions between the UK and devolved administrations.
An attempt to amend the devolution settlements ahead of Brexit would be complex and politically controversial, against the background that neither the UK Government nor Parliament has the capacity to undertake such a task at the same time as achieving a successful Brexit.
The report amongst many other conclusions suggests that “On balance, we therefore conclude that, for the duration of the Brexit process, the statutory balance of competences between the UK Parliament and the devolved legislatures should as far as possible be unchanged”.
This valuable report from the House of Lords helps to move the Brexit debate forward in terms for competencies, such as the environment, that are largely controlled from the EU & how this will operate in a post-Brexit landscape.
If you want to read, first-hand, the analysis from the House of Lord’s report, a copy of the report can be downloaded here