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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Brexit power grab is still on

As the various agendas around Brexit unfold before us, it is becoming clearer that the slogan 'take back control' means different things to different people.

For the government, various court cases and procedural manoeuvres in Parliament suggest that it means by-passing MPs and Lords to get their way. For some hardliners, it means harking back to the days of empire, creating an immigrant-free society in which the values of Colonel Blimp can prevail in all the best London clubs. For most Brexiteers however, it is a vague sense of not being told what to do by people in remote bureaucratic enclaves, no matter how inaccurate and mistaken that caricature maybe.

In Northern Ireland of course, the DUP are using their bargaining power to do away with the devolved administration and reassert direct rule. The shadow that hangs over the whole process is the future of the Good Friday Agreement and whether an agreement can be reached that keeps the border open between North and South. In other devolved administrations the obstacles are more prosaic, but still pose difficult questions about the whole process.

This is why the Welsh and Scottish Governments are fighting so hard to ensure that the final legislation is fit for purpose. As this article in the Guardian points out, they are concerned that a government which has never been fully signed up to devolution in the first place, and in some departments still does not understand the process are seeking to pull powers back to the centre.

It is the common default of all governments (even the devolved ones) to accumulate power and responsibilities so as to advance their own agenda. They don't trust more locally accountable bodies to do the work for them, nor do they often recognise the legitimacy of national, regional and local agendas that fit better with the area they are designed for rather than that promoted by the more remote central government.

Frankly, devolved ministers do not trust assurances that any UK government control over UK-wide common frameworks would be temporary, saying this gives Whitehall and Westminster too much power over policies which rightfully belong in Edinburgh, Cardiff or Belfast.

They say that all four governments should have an equal say over these common frameworks, covering areas such as farming, fisheries and food labelling, without the UK government having any casting vote or veto.

This is not a Catalonian situation, but there are important principles at stake. The areas of policy under dispute are better delivered by devolved administrations who understand and are able to serve the very local circumstances over which they preside. Taking back control in this context is allowing that to happen, not seeking to dictate things from Whitehall as happened in the days of Colonel Blimp. It is time the UK Government conceded that point.
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