The First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and the First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford have jointly written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him to immediately rule out a ‘no deal’ Brexit – a scenario they describe as being ‘catastrophic’.
In a long letter to Boris Johnson, the First Ministers set out four steps the new Prime Minister can immediately take to establish a more productive relationship between the governments of the UK.
These include the need for the on-going Inter-governmental Relations Review to put in place more robust machinery for working together on the basis of greater equality and a commitment to full involvement of the devolved administrations in international negotiations which impact on devolved competence. They expect the UK Government should ensure that Scotland and Wales would be no worse off if the UK does leave the EU, and they propose that the Immigration White Paper should be replaced by proposals which reflect the needs of the economy of the whole of the UK.
They have also called for the UK Government to prepare for a second EU referendum.
Dear Prime Minister
We congratulate you on your appointment as Prime Minister. This comes at a critical time when all four nations of the country face unprecedented constitutional challenges which are placing great strain on the relationships between our governments.
We are concerned that you have not ruled out leaving the European Union without a deal on 31 October. While we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that we are as prepared as possible for this eventuality, there should be no doubt that the consequences would be catastrophic for all parts of the UK. It would be unconscionable for a UK Government to contemplate a chaotic no-deal exit, and we urge you to reject this possibility clearly and unambiguously as soon as possible. We are also clear that the decision on EU exit must now be put back to the people. It is the policy of both governments that the UK Parliament should legislate for a further referendum. If such a referendum is held we will argue strongly that the UK should remain in the EU.
While the prospect of a no-deal exit exists, despite the differences between our governments, there must be strong and constructive joint planning and action to mitigate the effects so far as possible. As recognised when we were preparing for a March deadline, this must be done in a way that fully respects devolution. And in any next phase of the EU Exit process, the meaningful involvement of all the United Kingdom’s governments in the decisions that affect them is crucial. This will require a significant shift in the culture and approach to intergovernmental relations we have experienced over the past three years, to ensure that proper respect is given to devolved interests and institutions.
Against this background, there are a number of early steps that could be taken to establish a more productive relationship between our governments.
First, we need to complete the Inter-governmental Relations Review to put in place more robust machinery for working together on the basis of greater equality. We cannot reset the relationships and deliver these priorities without replacing the current inadequate inter-governmental machinery which is not fit for purpose. We need to urgently replace the current arrangements with ones which recognise the equality of status of each government and provide an opportunity for genuine discussions and influence over policy making. There is a need to build confidence in the respect for decisions made by the devolved institutions, especially legislative decisions under the Sewel Convention. There is also a need for independently-facilitated mechanisms for resolving disputes. Addressing these issues effectively requires urgent, meaningful and timetabled action, before any withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Second, we need a commitment to full involvement of the devolved administrations in international negotiations which impact on devolved competence. If we leave the European Union, we will need to renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union institutions and the rest of the world. The interests and responsibilities of the devolved institutions and governments will be affected, directly and indirectly. The devolved institutions and governments also have knowledge and expertise to contribute to the UK’s negotiating efforts.The former Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster recognised the need for the UK Government to agree an enhanced role for the devolved institutions and governments in any such discussions and decisions. We seek an early commitment from you to do just that, without prejudice to the full completion of the IGR Review. The Scottish and Welsh Governments and our Parliaments cannot be expected to co-operate on implementing obligations in devolved areas where we have not been fully involved in the determination of those obligations.
Third, your Government needs to make good the promises made by the Leave campaign that Scotland and Wales would be no worse off as a result of leaving the EU. We require a commitment that there will be no financial detriment to the devolved administrations and the public sector more generally in Wales and Scotland in consequence of the EU withdrawal process. The forthcoming Spending Review should end the policy of austerity in the interest of all governments. The establishment of successor arrangements for EU funding must be based on genuine engagement and fully respect the devolution settlements. The lack of any meaningful engagement between our governments on what a proposal for a UK wide Shared Prosperity Fund, agreed on the basis of parity, might look like is particularly concerning. It would be unacceptable if the UK Government made unilateral decisions on spending in areas currently the responsibility of the devolved administrations, accountable to our respective legislatures and electorates.
Fourth, the Immigration White Paper needs to be replaced by proposals which reflect the needs of the economy of the whole of the United Kingdom. The impact on Scotland and Wales of the UK Government’s proposals to end EU free movement of people has been continually ignored. Both countries will face severe demographic, economic and social challenges should the UK Government continue to reinforce the commitment to cut net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’. We must urgently discuss how to collaboratively develop migration policy in a way that fully meets the distinct needs of each part of the UK.
These changes cannot be delivered without proper consideration of any differences of understanding between governments in relation to the devolution settlement: relationships between and roles of the UK and devolved governments, and thus the basis of engagement. The devolution settlement does not create a hierarchy of governments: each administration has its area of competence, for which is accountable to an elected legislature. There is therefore a need for negotiation and agreement between the governments to be recognised as the only possible basis for successful joint working.
Your appointment provides an important opportunity to recognise the significance of these issues and put in place actions required to reset relationships for the effective governance of the United Kingdom. We ask that you convene a meeting of the Heads of Government as soon as possible so that we can discuss these critical issues as a matter of urgency.
Your agreement to these steps would be an important signal to us, to our legislatures and to our peoples of the positive way in which you intend to work with us during your tenure.
NICOLA STURGEON MARK DRAKEFORD