The role of devolved Governments’ in the UK’s negotiations with the EU

Published 13/07/2018   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes


Prior to the Joint Ministerial Committee held on 5 July the Governments of Wales and Scotland wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to complain that they were not being fully consulted in the preparation of the White Paper outlining the UK Government’s plan for leaving the EU. This article tracks recent developments involving the devolved Governments’ involvement in the UK Government’s negotiations with the EU.

Evidence to EAAL

On Monday 2 July Mr Drakeford, the Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and lead on Brexit gave evidence to the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee (“EAAL”) alongside Rebecca Evans AM, Minister for Housing and Regeneration and lead Minister on the intergovernmental Ministerial Forum on EU Negotiations. Ms Evans explained that:

[…] no actual chapters of the White Paper were shared with us. We were very clear that that was wholly unacceptable to us. There will be areas of that White Paper that are very much areas that are Welsh Government responsibility, and the other devolved nations as well. So, within that White Paper, at the very least the UK Government needs to be clear where they're speaking for the UK and where there are devolved matters at play there.

Mr Drakeford joined with Mike Russell, Scotland's Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, to write a letter to the Rt, Hon. David Lidington MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chair of the JMC (EN) prior to the JMC (EN on 5 July . They complained that the representatives from the devolved Governments were not permitted to see the draft White Paper in advance of the Ministerial Forum held on 27 June and could only make contributions on the basis of a brief, oral summary of the relevant chapters. The letter concluded:

We therefore wish to make it absolutely clear that we will not regard any discussion of the White Paper at next Thursday’s JMC (EN) [5 July] as meaningful, unless we have been given prior access to the text of the draft White Paper as it currently stands.
If we do not have this opportunity, we will have to make it very clear that we have been given no real possibility to consider, let alone influence the content of a document which will purport to speak on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, about matters, many of which are devolved, and on a subject which is of the greatest possible importance to the people of Scotland and Wales.

The JMC (EN)

The eleventh meeting of the JMC (EN) was held on 5 July and was chaired by the Mr Lidington. A communique was subsequently issued which stated:

The Chair opened the meeting by summarising the recent developments in EU negotiations and the Ministerial level engagement that had taken place since the Committee had last met, including June European Council and the second meeting of the Ministerial Forum on EU Negotiations.
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, Robin Walker MP, provided an update on negotiations and full overview of June European Council.
The Chair and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Exiting the EU also provided an update on the Department for Exiting the EU’s Future Framework white paper.
The Committee discussed the UK Government’s proposals for the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill.
The Chair provided an update on the ongoing work on common frameworks

Following the JMC (EN) Mr Drakeford issued a statement:

Before and during the discussion I made it clear to the Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington that as the full draft of the White Paper had not been shared with the Welsh Government or the Scottish Government, we had not been given a meaningful opportunity to consider the proposals and provide comment.
This goes against previous assurances from the UK Government that the devolved administrations would have a meaningful opportunity in shaping negotiating positions as they are developed. Nevertheless, we continue to take every chance to make the case for a Brexit which protects the interests of Wales.

Mr Lidington told the BBC that the UK government wanted to "engage constructively" with the devolved administrations and that "It is important that the UK government sits down regularly with the devolved administrations to discuss our preparations for leaving the EU.”

Mr Drakeford said that he had written to the former Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, the Rt. Hon. David Davis MP on 26 June to outline the concerns of the Welsh Government about the state of the negotiations with the EU27 and the uncertainty the UK Government’s approach was creating across key areas of the economy and with regard to the future delivery of public services.

In the letter Mr Drakeford reiterated the Welsh Government’s views on a future governance model for UK-EU relationships. He argued that as this will cover both devolved and non-devolved matters “it is essential that this is developed and operated jointly with the devolved governments. Before the model has been proposed to the EU we need to make sure it is sufficient to operate within the UK context reflecting devolved responsibilities.”

Also, addressing intergovernmental arrangement in the letter he said there was a “need to develop appropriate inter-UK governmental governance and operating models” and referred to the Welsh Government’s proposal for Council of Ministers.

It is clear the JMC process is inadequate to deal with the complexities of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. As the level of intergovernmental working will increase and intensify a new approach is urgently needed.

The White Paper

Last week the Cabinet met at Chequers and agreed a way forward for the UK Government in its negotiations with the EU. Although some prominent resignations followed, including that of David Davis, the agreement appears to stand. The White Paper was published yesterday.

Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service