FOI reveals Scottish Government perm sec’s ‘pretty frank’ Brexit chat in Whitehall

Written by Richard Johnstone on 9 March 2018 in News

Devolved administration perm sec reveals talks as Cabinet Office outlines powers set to be initially retained in Whitehall after Brexit

Leslie Evans Credit: David Anderson

The Scottish Government's top civil servant has revealed she had to give a “pretty frank presentation” to other permanent secretaries during an away day for departmental chiefs.

In a blog sent to civil servants in Scotland on 5 February, and subsequently released under the Freedom of Information legislation, Leslie Evans outlined how she set out the views of the devolved administrations on their experiences of dealing with Whitehall as part of the Brexit talks.

Talks between the UK government and the devolved administrations over the impact of Brexit have been ongoing in an effort to agree what powers that return from Brussels will be devolved.


The devolved administrations are concerned that powers related to areas such as environment, agriculture and fisheries – which are areas of devolved responsibility – will be retained by Westminster once the UK leaves the European Union.

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington has said that some powers will need to be retained centrally to respect what he called “the United Kingdom’s common market”, but has also indicated that he will make “a very big change” to the EU withdrawal bill in an attempt to resolve the deadlock between Westminster and Holyrood over the effect of Brexit on devolved powers.

In her comments, Evans said she had been part of a perm sec away day with other departmental chiefs in London last month which addressed the issue.

“I gave a pretty frank presentation on behalf of all three devolved administrations about our experience of working with UKG [UK Government] on EU exit and the challenges and opportunities ahead,” she stated. “I look forward to continuing this discussion when I welcome all perm secs to Scotland House in a few weeks. We also considered how the civil service is equipped to respond to a changing world, and where/how we perm secs prioritise our precious time together.”

The comments have been revealed as the Cabinet Office published an analysis of what powers related to devolved areas would be returned to the UK following Brexit. It found that EU laws “intersect with devolved competence” in 153 areas, and that negotiations would need to continue to agree future legislative arrangements in 24 policy areas.

Lidington said the fact that powers in 129 areas would be devolved amounted to “cast iron evidence that the EU Withdrawal Bill will deliver significant brand new powers for the devolved governments”.

The Cabinet Office said the 24 areas would need a UK framework and would “rollover into UK law for a temporary period”. These include: animal health and traceability, food and feed safety, hygiene law and food labelling, and chemical regulation.

“The vast majority of these new powers will be in the control of the devolved administrations on the day we leave the EU,” Lidington said. “There is a much smaller group of powers where the devolved governments will be required to follow current EU laws for a little bit longer while we work out a new UK approach.

“We are discussing with the devolved governments how this process will work but, as the UK government, we feel very strongly that we must have the ability to take action to protect the UK internal market which represents a huge investment to everyone in the UK.”

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Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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