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Holyrood committee criticises ‘piecemeal approach’ to post-Brexit devolution frameworks


The Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s convener has criticised the “piecemeal approach” taken by the UK Government in the development of post-Brexit common frameworks.

Scottish National Party MSP Gillian Martin said that it is “unclear, at this point, how the constitutional arrangements for Scottish devolution will operate within a post-Brexit UK”.

In an early submission to the House of Lords’ Committee inquiry into post-Brexit common frameworks, she set out the committee’s “significant and outstanding concerns” about the impact on the operation of the devolution settlement.

Martin also questioned Scottish Ministers’ ability to exercise powers in devolved competence and the Scottish Parliament’s ability to scrutinise Scottish Ministers, policy and legislation relating to its legislative competence.

She will give evidence to the House of Lords’ Common Frameworks Committee on 10 February.


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The inquiry is to consider how the common frameworks programme will operate and relate to other initiatives, how it could be reviewed and improved in the future, and the role for parliamentary scrutiny across the UK.

In a letter to Baroness Andrews, Chair of the Lords’ committee, Martin said that her colleagues were concerned that the Brexit process has “fundamentally altered the operation of the devolution settlement”, adding that a lack of information has been “decidedly unhelpful” in terms of anticipating and preparing to scrutinise frameworks.

The Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee has been considering the impact of Brexit on devolved environmental policy since the 2016 referendum, including the impacts of the UK Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Bills, as well as the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) Bill.

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At its first meeting of 2021, the committee met with academics and lawyers to discuss the new UK governance landscape.

The only emerging clarity from that discussion was around how complex a picture the devolution settlement now is, Martin stated in her letter.

She noted that the interaction between the implementation and operation of frameworks with the future relationship agreement, UK internal market, other trade agreements and the Scottish Government’s ‘keeping pace’ power highlights the wider practical constraints on Scottish Ministers’ ability to exercise powers in devolved competence.

“For this reason, we consider it is essential that frameworks include effective dispute resolution mechanisms,” Martin wrote.

“We are also concerned that the development of frameworks is almost exclusively an inter-governmental process with limited opportunities for parliamentary engagement, both in terms of parliamentary scrutiny/ministerial accountability and parliamentary influence.”

She complained of “negligible parliamentary engagement in the early stages”, and a limited role at the later stages, of policy development.

Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government officials have recently agreed some detail around the five-stage development process for frameworks, especially in the light of the Scottish parliamentary elections in May, but the five stage development process itself was agreed at inter-governmental level without any parliamentary consultation.

“We are also concerned that there has been an extremely limited amount of engagement with stakeholders,” added Martin, adding that when the committee took evidence on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union Bill in August, stakeholders reported at that they had seen very little consultation on the frameworks.

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According to the 3 December 2020 update from the Scottish Government, the number of frameworks still to complete the stakeholder consultation stage was considerable at that point.

Martin’s letter stated that the decision by the administrations to progress all frameworks to provisional framework stage, in order for them to be minimally operable for the end of the transition period – before stakeholder and parliamentary engagement has been undertaken – suggests a marginal role for both stakeholder and parliamentary engagement in the frameworks process.

“The unexpected and considerable impact of the current Covid-19 pandemic on the frameworks process is understandable, but it should not be used as an opportunity to by-pass the administrations’ own five-stage development process.”

She asked for more information on how the five-phase delivery process will be amended, concluding that “it is difficult to evaluate the overall picture if you cannot look at all its constituent parts at the same time”.



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