IFG - Disputes over Brexit increase the need to strengthen the Sewel convention
A new Institute for Government paper says the future of the Union could be put at risk without reforms to the principle of legislative consent which lies at the heart of the devolution settlement.
Published yesterday, Legislating by consent: How to revise the Sewel convention warns that passing UK-wide legislation in Westminster without the consent of the devolved nations risks undermining the stability of devolution, power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and even the Union itself. The paper recommends ways to repair this breakdown in trust, to hold UK ministers more accountable for decisions relating to devolution, and to reassure Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that Westminster does not intend to undermine the devolution settlements.
The UK government insists that it will uphold the Sewel convention, under which Westminster does not normally pass laws in devolved areas without devolved consent, but the devolved administrations believe that Brexit has exposed the convention’s limitations and left devolution vulnerable to unilateral actions taken at Westminster. The UK government has already forced through two key pieces of Brexit legislation without the approval of all the devolved nations.
The controversial UK Internal Market Bill is causing further tension over Westminster’s approach to legislating in devolved areas, and other Brexit-related bills mean further disputes are likely ahead of the 2021 Scottish and Welsh elections – at which Scottish independence will be one battleground.
Both the UK and devolved governments are committed to making the consent process work, and committees of all five legislative chambers of the UK recognise the need to reform Sewel.
The IfG paper says the governments of the UK should work together to reform and strengthen the convention, and its recommendations include:
- Formal recognition by the UK government that consent is required for legislation that amends the powers of the devolved bodies as well as for legislation in already devolved areas such as education or housing
- The UK and devolved governments should reach agreement on the limited circumstances in which consent need not be sought for legislation in devolved areas
- An agreed minimum period for Whitehall departments to share draft legislation with their devolved counterparts before introduction into the UK parliament
- Ministerial ‘devolution statements’ at the introduction of a bill to set out why consent is required and then again if the UK government has chosen to proceed without consent
- A greater role for parliamentary committees – such as a new devolution committee – in scrutinising the devolution implications of all legislation and considering how the UK and devolved governments could resolve disputes over consent.
Akash Paun, the report’s author, said: “The Sewel convention and the process of seeking devolved consent has been a central pillar of the devolution arrangements for two decades, but it has been put under serious strain by Brexit. If the UK and devolved governments do not repair their relationship and agree how a reformed consent process should work, then there is a risk of the convention collapsing altogether. This would carry serious implications for the stability of the Union.”
Notes to editors
Latest News from
Healthy meals, healthy planet – IPPR calls for food system shake up to fight climate crisis and food poverty07/05/2021 11:25:00
Think tank calls for expansion of free school meals, healthy food voucher scheme and end to environmentally harmful foods
King's Fund - New analysis shows ‘widespread decline’ in adult social care06/05/2021 15:05:00
New figures reveal the dire state of England's social care sector before the pandemic, with more people requesting support but fewer getting the help they needed. The data puts further pressure on the government to commit to reform of social care in next week’s Queen’s Speech.
“Excellent news”: IEA Fellow comments on UK-India trade and investment deals05/05/2021 12:15:00
IEA Fellow and Competere CEO Shanker Singham responded to the Prime Minister’s announcement of new trade and investment deals with India
IEA - No need for “emergency measures” to manage national debt, says new research04/05/2021 10:35:00
New IEA research paper ‘UK Debt in Perspective’, authored by Professors Forrest Capie and Geoffrey Wood, gives historical context to the current UK debt figures, which currently stand at around 100 per cent of national income.
Adam Smith Inst - UK Gov will miss Brexit chance to make 2030 smoke free04/05/2021 09:30:00
In the UK, around 78,000 people die every year as a consequence of smoking with and many more live with the misery of debilitating smoking-related diseases. While the number of smokers has fallen in recent years the Government is not on track to meet its target of being ‘smoke-free by 2030’, which means having an adult smoking prevalence of 5% or less.
Proposed ban on zero-hours contracts “completely the wrong move”, says IEA expert03/05/2021 09:15:00
Professor Len Shackleton, Editorial and Research Fellow at free market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, responded to the TUC’s demands for the government to ban zero-hours contracts
JRF hails High Court bid to end discrimination against legacy benefit claimants30/04/2021 09:15:00
The High Court has granted claimants of Employment Support Allowance permission to challenge the Department for Work and Pensions’ decision not to increase their benefit in line with Universal Credit.
Modern Monetary Theory cannot deliver long-term growth, says new IEA research29/04/2021 14:25:00
New IEA research, authored by the Director of the Institute of International Monetary Research Juan E. Castañeda, highlights shortcomings of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).
IFG - Spending more is no guarantee of success – the impact of 20 years of devolution on public services across the UK29/04/2021 13:25:00
With just one week to go before Scottish and Welsh elections, a new Institute for Government report, published today, has revealed big differences in the performance of public services across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland over the last two decades.