Common Frameworks: The never-ending story?

Published 10/07/2023   |   Reading Time minutes

Common frameworks are agreements between the UK and devolved governments, on how to manage divergence in certain policy areas formerly governed or coordinated at EU level.

The UK and devolved governments have plans for 26 common frameworks in areas devolved to Wales, such as food safety, air quality, waste and public health. Most common frameworks came into effect on a provisional basis at the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

In December 2021, we asked if common frameworks were the last piece in addressing the constitutional puzzle of how to manage divergence in the UK post-Brexit. A year and a half later, they remain unfinished  with final frameworks yet to be agreed.

Senedd Committees have been scrutinising provisional frameworks and made a number of recommendations for how they could be improved before they are finalised.

 A debate on a report by the Senedd’s Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee on the common frameworks programme will take place on 12 July. This article looks at the story so far and missing chapters in their story.

Why are common frameworks being developed?

Following the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK and devolved governments can take different approaches to policy areas previously governed or coordinated at the EU level.

In 2017, the four governments of the UK decided that they would co-design common frameworks to manage this potential for divergence in areas where it could cause disruption or where coordination would be beneficial. Our article on their development provides more information on their origins and purpose.

Why do these frameworks matter and why should people in Wales care?

Common Frameworks matter because the four governments have agreed that decisions by one government to diverge or develop new policies or laws should go through the frameworks process and that the other governments should have opportunities to use a dispute resolution process if they object or disagree. This could have a practical effect on the processes for developing new laws and policies and the role of legislatures and stakeholders in them.

Any of the four governments can request that the UK Government exclude an area covered by a common framework from the scope of the UK Internal Market Act. Welsh law prohibiting the sale of some single use plastics is one example of a law that falls within such an exclusion . Our article on Scotland’s plan for a Deposit Return Scheme provides another example of why this aspect of frameworks is significant.

The frameworks also offer new opportunities for the devolved governments’ involvement in international affairs, although the First Minister has said these ambitions “have not yet been realised”. These opportunities include the implementation of UK-EU agreements.

The Counsel General has said:

Common Frameworks have the potential to be enduring, flexible and increasingly significant governance mechanisms for the policy areas previously governed by EU law. They can help facilitate policy alignment and manage regulatory divergence amongst the four governments.

What role is the Senedd playing?

The four governments of the UK agreed that the UK’s legislatures would have an opportunity to scrutinise draft versions of the frameworks and make recommendations before they are finalised.

The four legislatures in the UK have gone about this task in different ways. For example, the House of Lords set up a new committee. In Wales, individual subject committees have considered frameworks in their areas in detail while the  Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee has overseen the development of the overall programme and the cross-cutting issues emerging from it.

What have Senedd Committees said?

Senedd Committees collectively have made over 100 recommendations on how the frameworks could be improved. These address a range of issues, from stakeholder engagement to specific and detailed recommendations about their policy content.

In its report, the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee has drawn together the key issues from the work of the subject committees.  It concludes, amongst other things, that the Welsh Government should:

  • Explain how it will ensure common frameworks will not limit the roles of the Welsh Government, the Senedd, or stakeholders in Wales when making law and policy.
  • Ensure that each common framework clearly sets out when and how stakeholders will feed into its decision-making process.
  • Ensure that there is regular reporting to the Senedd on the operation of each framework.
  • Ensure common frameworks include a reference to the UK Internal Market Act and exclusions process.
  • Ensure that common frameworks are amended to include detail on how the governments of the UK will work together on international obligations and policy.

You can read more about what committees have said on individual frameworks  on the Senedd’s common framework pages and about the frameworks themselves in our briefings.

Why are they unfinished and what happens next?

Initially, common frameworks were delayed because of disagreements between the four governments on cross-cutting issues like international affairs and the UK Internal Market Act. More recently, there have been further delays due to the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland to negotiate them and an Assembly to scrutinise them.

Despite this, the majority of frameworks are provisionally in operation. Governments appear to be using the new structures to make key decisions on policy and  agree approaches to new laws in areas such as waste.

The four governments of the UK have said that they won’t be responding individually to recommendations made by the legislatures. Instead they will review the recommendations made collectively before they negotiate, agree any changes and respond to committees. This leaves a potentially significant period of time where the last chapters of the frameworks remain unwritten.

The four governments  have agreed to report annually on how frameworks are operating and the decisions taken through them once all frameworks have been finalised. In the meantime important decisions are being taken without governments having to tell citizens and legislatures what these are.  

This makes the work of Senedd Committees and debates, such as the one on 12 July, all the more important. You can follow the debate live on

Article by Nia Moss, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament