Civil servants are to undertake a review of the cross-governmental structures set up to support communication between administrations in order to ensure they are “fit for purpose” following Brexit, it has been revealed.
Following yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, which brings together representatives of the Westminster government with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland devolved administrations, it was decided that a review of the existing structure would be needed when the UK leaves the EU next year.
Currently, the meetings take place in plenary format (annual meetings of the heads of each government) as well as in domestic and European formats to discuss cross-cutting issues, with the relationship governed by a Memorandum of Understanding intended to set out the principles that underpin relations. These include the commitment of the four administrations to effective communication, consultation and cooperation on matters of mutual interest, and to the exchange of information, statistics and research, with due regard to the principle of confidentiality.
According to the minutes of the latest plenary session, which took place yesterday in 10 Downing Street, a review led by government officials will now consider if the format needs to change.
“Ministers agreed that officials should review and report to ministers on the existing intergovernmental structures, including the Memorandum of Understanding, to ensure they are fit for purpose in light of the UK’s exit from the EU,” it stated.
The meeting was attended by prime minister Theresa May, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones. Andrew McCormick, the director general of the Northern Ireland Executive Office, attended the meeting in the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive.
The meeting comes amid talks between the governments over the impact of Brexit on devolved administrations.
Last month, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington (who also attended the meeting) promised “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.
Senior figures from both the Scottish and Welsh governments have repeatedly expressed concerns that the UK government will take control of devolved powers following Brexit in areas formally devolved but in practice regulated by EU law, such as fisheries, environment, agriculture, animal welfare and aspects of public health and transport.
However, following the talks yesterday, Sturgeon said that the stalemate could be resolved in the coming weeks.
She said differences between the UK and devolved regions are "not insignificant, but neither are they insurmountable", following the meeting. Jones also said he was "hopeful" a resolution would be found in the "next few days".
The change of tone comes after months of accusations from Edinburgh and Cardiff that Westminster was mounting a "power grab".
Last week Lidington set out details of 24 areas he said would need to come under Westminster control immediately after the UK leaves the EU to avoid short-term confusion in areas such as food hygiene, chemicals and animal welfare.
Sturgeon said that “we can't have our powers restricted or reduced without the consent of the Scottish Parliament," but added: “I believe there are ways we can abide by that principle while still addressing some of the concerns of the UK government”.
"I think a deal can be done. There is still some way to go, but there is a willingness, indeed a determination, to see if we can get there."
Additional reporting by Nicholas Mairs