Devolution Days coming up: info & action for how to #StopthePowerGrab

Big days for devolution are coming up next week, as the Withdrawal Bill returns to the Commons for Committee Stage day 4 and 5. On the 4th and 6th of December, MPs will debate the bill’s approach to the legislative competence of the devolved administrations and the Good Friday Agreement. 

What’s coming up on day 4 & 5 of Committee Stage:

Monday 4th December: Clause 11 and Schedule 3
Wednesday 6th December: Clause 10 and Schedule 2

Clause 10 and 11 and their associated Schedules 2 and 3 in the bill are the ones concerning devolution. As drafted, these clauses risks not only undermining hardwon devolution settlements but they also give ministers significant leeway to interpret their delegated powers. These powers are so broadly defined they could be used rewrite devolution acts that were endorsed by referendums in the respective nations and regions of the UK. 

Actions to take in the critical days ahead of 4th and 6th December: 
See detailed information on the clauses, schedules and issues that will be discussed on day 4 & 5 below. 

There are a wide range of ways your organisation (or your supporters or member organisations) can get involved and help spread the word about the threat to hard-won devolutions settlements before Monday and Wednesday next week: 

  • Phone/ Email your MP (or ask your supporters/ member organisations to do so) to make sure they turn up and vote! Or even better, ask MPs to vote on amendments that with the aforementioned principles in mind 
  • Tweet at MPs that supports crucial amendments to the bill and encourage them to keep on going (list to follow)
  • Retweet the Alliance’s tweets (@fixrepealbill)- we’ll be following the debates closely 
  • Help spread the word through your own networks and website 

Spreading the word on social media: 
Here are some examples of what you can do on social media to rally supporters and MPs:

  • Tweet before Monday and Wednesday: use countdowns like “Only 2 days until committee stage- this is a massive day for our hard-won devolution settlements”, “Only 2 days until committee stage- this is the chance to stop the power grab by Westminster"
  • Use hashtags: #StopthePowerGrab #EUWithdrawalBill
  • Tag (@) your MP and ask them to vote on amendments which will ensure clear limits and safeguards on the powers given to UK ministers in the bill, common framework is mutually agreed between the four administrations, clarification of the status of the Good Friday Agreement 
  • Amendments will be announced on the morning before the debate, in the meantime, just ask MPs to support amendments which will secure the devolution settlements 

Examples of tweets to use on and before Monday and Wednesday: 

“The EU Withdrawal Bill is an attack on the principles of devolution- the bill must be amended to #StopthePowerGrab”. 

“The EUWB is a power grab from Scotland & Wales by Westminster. It must be amended to give power back to where it belongs”.

“The #WithdrawalBill will return all EU powers to Westminster against the wishes of Scotland & Wales - @yourMP vote to amend the bill to #StopthePowerGrab” 

“The #EUWithdrawalBil gives ministers sweeping powers to reshape democracy in Scotland & Wales, without their agreement- MPs must amend the bill to #StopthePowergrab"

“The Good Friday Agreement ensures equality for everyone in Northern Ireland- that is why the #EUWithdrawalBill must be amended to stop it being undermined. 
#StopthePowerGrab”

“The Good Friday Agreement has been at the heart of the peace process in Northern Ireland- the #EUWithdrawalBill must keep it intact after we leave the EU”  


A detailed look at day 4 & 5 of Committee Stage

Ill-defined powers given to ministers

Clause 10 sets out the powers given to devolved ministers. The vague phrasing of what these powers can be used for means they are open to wide interpretation. This could potentially result in ministers using their delegated powers to make policy changes,without parliamentary scrutiny

Schedule 2 shows that the delegated powers for devolved ministers differs substantially from those delegated to UK ministers. The power to amend retained EU law is restricted to UK ministers even though some elements fall under what are currently areas of devolved legislative competence. 

To avoid granting ministers sweeping, ill-defined powers which could be used to change devolved policy areas, the Alliance call on MPs to back amendments that will ensure clear limits and safeguards on the powers given to UK ministers in the bill that enable them to interfere with referendum approved devolution acts.  

The repatriation of powers and common frameworks

Clause 11 prevents the devolved administrations from modifying retained EU law. This essentially mean that devolved administrations are restricted from creating new agricultural, fisheries and regional policies - a striking move away from the current conferred powers model of devolution that was agreed by respective referendums. Instead, the devolved powers in these areas would be frozen until the UK government decides whether to “unfreeze” any of them. Consequently, all powers currently exercised at  EU level will flow back to Westminster.  

Significantly, this means the UK government is unilaterally moving devolution in the UK towards  a conferred powers model, away from the existing reserved powers model. While the government has attempted to provide assurances this is only a temporary measure, the lack of a sunset clause on powers being centrally held by Westminster should raise alarm bells.  

The Alliance agrees that following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, there will be a need for common standards and frameworks to enable cross-border working and the maintenance of an internal common market. However, the desirability of establishing common UK frameworks does not justify the current approach the bill takes. 

The Alliance urges MPs to back amendments which will ensure that a UK common framework is mutually agreed between the four administrations. 

Protecting the Good Friday Agreement

While the Government has confirmed that the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) should be safeguarded as the UK exits the EU, the Withdrawal bill contains no formal recognition or protection of the GFA nor does the bill provide any assurances that its complete implementation is a priority when the UK exit the EU. Instead, Clause 11 of the bill undermines the GFA by interfering with the devolved functions of the Northern Irish Assembly. The GFA, underpinned by EU membership, is explicitly founded upon a set of fundamental principles such as dual citizenships rights, equivalence of rights between Ireland and Northern Ireland and equality rights. 

However, it is worth noting what was stated in the Confidence and Supply Agreement with the DUP that established the working arrangement between the Conservative Party and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). In this agreement both sides “recognised the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland’s history and the effect this has had on the economy and people from all parts of the community”. The government also stated that “ The Conservative Party reiterates its steadfast support for the Belfast Agreement and its successors and, as the UK government, will continue to govern in the interests of all part of the community in Northern Ireland”.

An urgent question the government needs to answer is how the same standards and rights will be maintained across the isle of Ireland, in line with its duties and obligations in the GFA.

To ensure a high standards UK post-Brexit and a respect for the devolution settlements, the Alliance recommends that the UK government clarifies the legal status of the GFA in the bill and implement safeguards to ensure non-regression of rights and equivalent standards of protections with the Republic of Ireland. 

How the bill can be amended to protect the devolution settlements

Unsurprisingly, the decision by the UK Government to withhold the powers of devolved administrations has provoked Welsh and Scottish ministers to name the bill  “a naked power grab”.  During our extended discussions with civil society in devolved nations it is  clear that charities and NGO are deeply concerned about the bill’s impact on devolution and that the delegated powers could be used to be used to amend the basis of the devolution settlement. 

The Alliance share those concerns and while we are not backing specific amendments, we urge MPs to support amendments that will ensure: 

  • Clear limits and safeguards on the powers given to UK ministers in the bill that enable them to interfere with referendum approved devolution acts.  
  • Ensure a UK common framework is mutually agreed between the four administrations, not imposed by Westminster; 
  • The legal status of the Good Friday Agreement must be clarified in the bill and safeguards to ensure non-regression of rights and equivalent standards of protections with the Republic of Ireland must be implemented.

For further information on what to expect on Monday and Wednesday:




 

Malene Bratlie