Devolved nations also entitled to ‘take back control’, campaigners demand ahead of devolution debate

Campaigners have warned MPs that without serious amendment, the EU (Withdrawal) Bill - which returns to Committee Stage on the 4th and 6th December - threatens to further centralise power in Westminster and undermine hard-won devolution settlements.

The Withdrawal Bill, also known as the Repeal Bill, returns to Parliament for debates on Clauses 10 and 11, which concern devolution and the Good Friday Agreement. Unlock Democracy, the UK’s leading campaign for constitutional and democratic reform, has raised concerns that the powers in the bill undermine hard-won and unique devolution settlements, which were decided in referendums.

Both clauses have provoked strong reactions from the Welsh and Scottish First Ministers, who have called the bill a “naked power grab” [1]. Clause 10 gives sweeping delegated powers to ministers in Westminster to make changes to the various referendum-approved devolution acts, in order to deal with deficiencies arising from withdrawal, comply with international obligations and implement the withdrawal agreement.

Clause 11 amends the respective devolution acts to restrict existing competences so that all powers from Brussels will flow directly to Westminster. While the government has attempted to provide assurances this is only a temporary measure, the lack of a sunset clause on this provision has raised concerns.

If the bill is not amended, ministers in Westminster will have sweeping powers to rewrite key devolution acts with the devolved administrations having no statutory right to challenge. This would mark a significant step away from the existing reserved powers model, to a conferred powers model, with power being centralised in Westminster.

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, commented:

“Without a codified constitution that clearly defines the rights of the devolved nations and regions, and protects these rights from interference from central government, devolution will remain the gift of Westminster. This is exactly the case in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill: UK ministers are gladly handing themselves the power to rewrite devolution Acts that were approved by referendums.

“If taking back control is to mean anything, it has to involve a respect for the existing culture of devolution in the UK. ‘Taking back control’ shouldn’t mean more control for Westminster, and less for the devolved administrations.

“Divides over Brexit have not yet healed, and tensions are bearing out differently across the nations and regions of the UK. The UK government must therefore take a more inclusive and collaborative approach, which means involving the devolved administrations meaningfully in the process.”  

The government’s approach on devolution has come under criticism by influential and respected committees in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The Exiting the EU Committee called on the government to “improve engagement with the devolved administrations to resolve this deadlock”[2]. The European Union Committee called Brexit “a major constitutional change for the United Kingdom” and warned that “any attempt to use Brexit to make a power grab, either to ‘re-reserve’ powers previously devolved, or to claim more devolved powers, could compound such instability.”[3]


 Notes to Editors

[1] Stone, J. Theresa May in 'naked power grab' over Brexit Repeal Bill, Scotland and Wales first ministers say, The Independent, 13/07/2017

[2] The House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee, European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (1st Report of Session 2017–19)  p.5

[3] The House of Lords European Union Committee, Brexit: devolution (4th Report of Session 2017–19) p.6

About Unlock Democracy

Unlock Democracy is a cross-party campaign for democratic and constitutional reform. The campaign is Brexit neutral, and took no position on the EU membership referendum. Unlock Democracy is owned and run by it’s supporters, and information about its funding as well as its campaigns are available online:

Unlock Democracy has produced a briefing on days 4 and 5 of Committee Stage for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. 

In June 2017 Unlock Democracy published the report, ‘A Democratic Brexit: Avoiding Constitutional Crisis in Brexit Britain’ which provides more details on proposals for reforming the way are negotiated and ratified in the UK.

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