“Creation of UK-wide frameworks

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 4th December 2017.

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Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 4:18 pm, 4th December 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your guidance, Mrs Laing. I will speak to new clauses 64 and 65, as well as to amendments 42 and 337, which stand in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends.

New clause 64 would establish a collaborative procedure for the creation of UK-wide frameworks. It would require that the Secretary of State must lay before each House proposals for replacing European frameworks with UK ones. We need those frameworks to enable the functioning of the UK internal market; to ensure compliance with international obligations; to ensure the UK can negotiate and enter into international treaties, or, if we leave the customs union, trade agreements; to enable the management of common resources; to administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element; and to safeguard the security of the UK. The frameworks will have a significant impact on the carefully constructed devolution settlements in the Union. They must be created in collaboration with the devolved Administrations.

The birth of devolved Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland was a significant change to the running of the United Kingdom. The then Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, battled to extract powers from Whitehall mandarins, who attempted to cling on to them. Then, as now, the default position of Whitehall is to hold on to power whenever possible. There are those who believe that this pro-Whitehall centralising tendency, on display yet again in clause 11, is evidence of the Tories’ reluctance to engage with devolved Administrations, or, even worse, that it signals a persistence of their initial opposition to devolution as a point of principle.

I am pleased to say that I am not one of those people. I believe we have come a long way since 1997, thanks in large part to the persistence of Donald Dewar and others. I sense that the Government’s decision to withhold retained EU powers in Whitehall is not an anti-devolution stance, but instead one of the clearest indications yet that the Government are just not coping with the task of Brexit. The Government simply have not had the ministerial headspace—or, as Alan Milburn said, the bandwidth—to engage with the consequences of Brexit for the established, yet still young, devolution settlements now in place.