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Rethink on devolution needed due to Brexit, Jenkin says in new report

A anti-Brexit protestor holds European Union and British flags outside the Houses of Parliament, in Westminster, London, as MPs debate a series of Brexit related bills PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 11, 2018. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

By Jennifer McKiernan, Press Association Political Staff

A rethink of devolution is needed due to Brexit, Sir Bernard Jenkin has said in a new Commons report.

The devolution settlements were set up 20 years ago in the context of EU membership, said Sir Bernard, who is chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

He said this context "masked many key constitutional questions and ambiguities", which will become "more pressing" as the UK leaves the EU.

Sir Bernard said: "Leaving the EU will change the UK's constitutional arrangements, so it needs a rethink.

"We recommend the Government sets out a clear devolution policy for the Union as we leave the EU.

"Failure to do this just prolongs misunderstandings which are the basis for more conflict."

The UK and Scottish governments are currently locked in a Supreme Court battle relating to accusations of a power grab over how 24 powers should be returned from Brussels following Brexit.

Sir Bernard said the "acrimony" with Welsh and Scottish administrations over the EU Withdrawal Bill was "highly regrettable" and "avoidable" with better consultation.

He called for a new system of independent inter-governmental relations to be set out in statute and added: "The present machinery for developing inter-governmental relations is flimsy, and there is nothing to give the various parts of England a say.

"Ignoring this risks the future relations within the UK.

"We set out a path to reconciling differences and building strong relationships across the UK, which recognises that many parts of England have more in common with parts of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland than they do with London and the South East."

The committee has suggested clarification be made with a new Devolution Policy for the Union, which should be issued at the start of every parliament.

The report states: "This policy should outline where the constitutional architecture of devolution needs to be buttressed or amended and should, where necessary, provide justification for asymmetry within the devolution settlement."

The committee also acknowledges how political changes have "arguably qualified sovereignty within the UK" through the "introduction of popular sovereignty" in the devolution settlement and referendums.

This means, although the "ultimate supremacy" of the UK Parliament is legal fact, sovereignty is a political concept that "does not always obey legal direction".

SNP MP Ronnie Cowan, who sits on the committee, said the state of relationships between devolved administrations and the Government could explain why the UK is now facing "the utter chaos of a no-deal Brexit".

He said: "If the Tories had engaged with the devolved administrations after the Brexit referendum and had a grown-up conversation that allowed for input and constructive criticism, then we could be in a very different place.

"Instead the UK Government internalised all their rows and are completely bogged down in their own divisions.

"If this is the same management style that has been adopted while engaging with the EU 27 then it's no wonder the negotiations are in the shambolic state that they are."

A UK Government spokeswoman said: "We are committed to securing a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom and have been absolutely clear that when devolved powers are returned from Brussels, the vast majority will go straight to the devolved administrations.

"For the past year, we have been focused on constructively engaging with the devolved administrations and continue to have regular meetings with them, held at all levels, including the Joint Ministerial Committees and Ministerial Forums.

"All sides have committed to continuing to work together, including building common frameworks so that UK businesses won't face a cliff edge on the day we leave the EU."

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