“Creation of UK-wide frameworks

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 4th December 2017.

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Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 4:30 pm, 4th December 2017

I sincerely hope that that will not be the outcome, but I have to admire the hon. and learned Lady’s ability to spot an opportunity and take it.

The Government have never argued that these powers need to be in London or that they intend to hold on to them permanently. Rather, it seems that they feel that tackling the undoubted complexities of considering how to make new arrangements with the devolved Administrations post Brexit belongs in the “too difficult” pile—something to be put off until there is more time and there are fewer distractions. However, there are no time limits on when the Government will cease to hoard the powers. While the hard-line Brexiteers on the Back Benches are promised a time and date—to the very nanosecond—for when they will see powers returned from Brussels, the nations of our Union are told to wait indefinitely. The people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland deserve better from the Government.

The Government agree with Labour and the devolved Administrations that frameworks are needed—I think—and new clause 64 assists them by outlining how that can be achieved. The presumption should be that powers remain devolved as is the case now, and that UK frameworks are created to co-ordinate policy in some areas through negotiation with the devolved Administrations. To do anything else would turn back the clock on devolution—impossible—and cause untold damage to important relationships between Parliaments.

As well as having the motivation and attention to address this issue, the Government need to trust the devolved Administrations. That is why our proposal makes explicit the obligations on each Government and the nature of the frameworks needed. So far, the Government have not exactly shone in their endeavour to develop a UK-wide approach to Brexit, so new clause 65 helps by putting the Joint Ministerial Committee on a statutory footing.

It is important to reflect on the absence of representation from Northern Ireland on the JMC. The suspension of the Executive is deeply regrettable, and permits the neglect of the needs, concerns, ambitions and hopes of the people of Northern Ireland. Their voices must not go unheard at this most critical of moments, but need to be amplified, as it is they who have the most to lose from a chaotic departure from the EU.