The implications of EU withdrawal

Published on 1 September 2018

Alan Page was commissioned to look at the implications of EU withdrawal for the devolution settlement after Brexit - in particular the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom

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I worked on The implications of EU withdrawal for the devolution settlement immediately after the EU referendum in 2016. The Scottish parliament wanted to know the implications for its law-making powers.

What would the Scottish parliament be able to legislate about after we left the EU that they aren’t able to legislate about now? What powers will we acquire as a result of Brexit?

I did an analysis of the powers of the EU looking at the question of whether or not they were reserved or devolved. Which means, essentially in the case of the reserved powers, they belonged to the UK parliament and devolved ones belonged to the Scottish parliament. In terms of where they would end up, would they end up in London or Edinburgh?

For me the interesting thing that came out of that piece of work was that the vast majority of these powers are reserved and belong to London. And if you fast forward to the argument that has been going on between the UK and the Scottish and Welsh government, it’s not quite two bald men fighting over a comb, but the focus is on agriculture, fisheries and the environment - when there are actually a very limited number of powers [associated with these]. The key question that Brexit raises is not who will get which powers, which is what we are fighting about at the moment, but what say will Scotland have in relation to those powers which are exercised at the UK level?

That has always been one of the big weaknesses of the devolution settlement that the technical language is strong when it comes to self-rule , in other words – what can Scotland do for itself? -  and the theme of the last 20 years has been about increasing the powers of the Scottish parliament. Much less strong, people may put it much more critically, when it comes to what might be called ‘shared rule’ – those powers which effect the whole of the UK. And so that for me is the key question looking ahead to the end of this process. Assuming we ever get there, which is by no means certain.


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