This House of Lords Library Briefing has been prepared in advance of the debate on 25 January 2018 on the following motion moved by Lord McInnes of Kilwinning (Conservative) that “that this House takes note of the role of the devolved administrations in the process of withdrawal from the European Union and future opportunities for strengthening the union of the United Kingdom”.
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A majority of 51.9 percent voted to leave the European Union in the June 2016 referendum. There were regional variations in the vote, particularly among the constituent nations of the UK with majorities in both Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to remain. Following proceedings brought in the Miller case, the Supreme Court judged that an Act of Parliament was required to empower the Government to invoke Article 50, the means by which the UK could notify the European Council of the UK’s intention to withdraw. The Court also ruled that the devolved administrations had no legal basis on which to veto withdrawal. On 2 February 2017, the Government published its initial plans for Brexit based on twelve guiding principles, including a pledge to strengthen the Union through securing a deal that worked for the whole of the UK. The Joint Ministerial Committee for EU Negotiations (JMC (EN)) was established to facilitate collaboration and oversight of negotiations and ensure, as far as possible, agreed outcomes were secured from these negotiations. The JMC (EN) has been criticised by representatives of the devolved administrations for the frequency and content of meetings. However, more recent meetings have seen some progress around the contentious issue of common frameworks.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, introduced in the House of Lords on 18 January 2018, would give effect to the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The Bill would repeal the European Communities Act 1972, ensuring continuity by converting the body of European legislation into UK law. The Government has explained that devolution provisions in the Bill are intended as transitional arrangements, with decisions to be taken on long-term common policy approaches later. Both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have described the Bill as drafted as a “power grab”, a position rejected by the Government. They submitted several amendments which sought, as they put it, to correct the deficiencies in the Bill as they relate to devolution. Following debate these were rejected by the House of Commons but the Government has since said it would come back with its own amendments in response to the criticisms.
This Briefing will set out the process of withdrawing from the European Union (EU) in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, as amended. It will then set out chronologically the steps which the UK Government has taken to date to bring about the UK’s withdrawal following the referendum, including the invocation of Article 50 and the introduction and progress to date of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. In this context, the Briefing examines the role of the devolved administrations throughout the process to date and sets out the mechanisms through which they will participate before the UK formally withdraws from the EU. It concludes by highlighting recent House of Lords committee reports that have considered the UK as a union, together with some suggested further reading that consider existing and future opportunities and challenges for it.