The EU’s role in UK devolution

The European Union has had a significant impact on devolution in the UK. Writing in the journal European Urban and Regional Studies, Giada Lagana provides an overview of how the EU was both empowering and disempowering for the nations and regions of the UK.  

Lagana argues devolution for the nations of the UK experienced greater benefit from the EU than regional devolution in England. He states that Labour introduced significant devolution settlements for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland during their time in office. Many scholars have argued that regional devolution in England remained “the gaping hole in the settlement”. A lack of unified distinctive territorial identity amongst local populations within England is presented as one reason for this lack of devolution.  

Lagana argues that the nations of the UK received positive engagement from the EU as they became more devolved. They were granted relative freedom to participate in EU institutions, engage in networking and set up offices in Brussels. This, Lagana argues, was never extended to regional areas of England searching for their own devolution settlement. This was reinforced after the 2004 referendum on an elected assembly for the north east of England resulted in a resounding ‘no’ vote.  

Lagana goes on to argue that the nations of the UK, while still restricted by Westminster’s desire to present a single unified position within EU institutions, were able to pursue regional and local interests within the EU Structural Funds framework. This “empowered” the nations and encouraged their own specific national identities in a way that was never reflected in the regions of England. Lagana concludes by arguing these opportunities for increased EU funding for the devolved nations and regions of England have now been halted by the UK’s departure from the European Union, and power has shifted back towards Westminster. 

 Read the full article: Giada LaganaHas the European Union empowered the regions? A pre- and post-Brexit preliminary investigation of the United KingdomEuropean Urban and Regional Studies, vol 28 (1), 3 December 2020, pp 34–39

Supreme court reform   

Writing for the UK Constitutional Law Association’s blog, Nicholas Reed Langen looks at recent proposals for reform of the supreme court.  

The proposals were initially authored by legal academics Derrick Wyatt QC and Richard Ekins as part of thinktank Policy Exchange’s Judicial Power Project. The proposals consider accusations that the court has become “too activist” and has lapsed into areas of policy rather than purely legal judgements.  

The proposals include steps such as: 

  • renaming the court the ‘Upper Court of Appeal’ or ‘UK Final Court of Appeal’; 
  • holding some sittings outside of London; and  
  • removing the supreme court justices, and moving their functions to panels of five or more judges from the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland, and the Inner House of the Court of Session.  

The authors state that the aim of these reforms would be to “broaden the judicial base of the final court of appeal”, and to “mitigate against the final court of appeal being, or being seen to be, a judicial policy making centre independent of government or parliament”.  

Nicholas Reed Langen argues that Wyatt and Ekins proposals carry several significant risks. He states that moving to a broader panel of judges from the lower courts could diminish the public’s faith in the decisions of the Supreme Court. He argues this could damage the force and legitimacy of the Supreme Court’s decisions. He also warns against any move towards the executive or the legislature becoming involved in the appointment of the judiciary, highlighting the importance of the independent appointments process.  

Reed Langen concludes by warning that any attempt to reform the court in pursuit of “shifting the judicial mindset” is “fraught with risk.”  

Read the full article: Nicholas Reed Langen, ‘Reforming the Supreme Court’UK Constitutional Law Association blog, 1 December 2020