The ‘formidable’ impact of Brexit on devolution

The formidable political and institutional implications of Brexit for the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are outlined in a new report by Kent’s Professor Richard Whitman for the policy institute, Chatham House.

His research paper Devolved External Affairs: The Impact of Brexit is launched on Thursday 9 February at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) in London, where Professor Whitman is a visiting senior fellow.

The report looks at how the devolution of political power within the UK since it joined the EU in 1973 introduces a new component to the negotiations to leave it.

Professor Whitman points out that the challenge of incorporating the devolved governments into the negotiations with the EU, when the UK government does not wish to give them a formal role or veto, is significant.

Key challenges identified include:

  • The Scottish government threatening to call another independence referendum if it disagrees with the settlement reached with the EU.
  • Much of the working relationships between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are tangible products of the peace process facilitated by EU membership. Should any new agreement adversely affect trade, investment or mobility between the two regions, this would be unsettling for Northern Ireland and also upset relations between the UK and the Republic.
  • Brexit will cause any areas of policy granted to the parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland determined by the EU to initially revert back to UK control. Any negotiations then required to grant them back to the devolved parliaments will almost certainly lead to increased demands for even greater devolution.
  • Any increase in devolution will inevitably have further implications for the external affairs of the UK and present challenges for each of the devolved parliaments.

The landscape of the UK’s external affairs looks set to be more variegated and complicated after it exits the EU.

Professor Whitman’s research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) under the UK in Changing Europe initiative. He is Head of the University’s School of Politics and International Relations, director of the Global Europe Centre and professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent