Brexit Constitution

Assembly debates UK governance after Brexit

On 28 February the Assembly will be debating in Plenary the recent report from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, UK governance post Brexit. The report explains the shifting context of the inquiry as the UK prepares to leave the European Union and the way in which the various governments and parliaments of the UK work together has been brought into sharper focus.

26 February 2018

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Introduction

On 28 February the Assembly will be debating in Plenary the recent report from the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee, UK governance post Brexit.

The report explains the shifting context of the inquiry as the UK prepares to leave the European Union and the way in which the various governments and parliaments of the UK work together has been brought into sharper focus.

Key recommendations

The report makes nine recommendations. These include:

  • In the short term, the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) is strengthened by ensuring that the JMC (Plenary) fulfils the functions of an annual Heads of Government Summit, as suggested in 2016 by the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (HC 839); adding new committees to the existing JMC format to cover the single market and trade, and in particular to agree on common frameworks.
  • The UK Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, currently in the House of Lords, is amended by the UK Government to place inter-governmental relations on a statutory footing.
  • In the longer term, post-Brexit, the JMC should be subject to fundamental reform so that it becomes a UK Council that: is a decision-making body; has an independent dispute resolution, arbitration and adjudication mechanism; is transparent and accountable in all of its functions and operations, in particular, in its decision-making.
  • The Memorandum of Understanding between the UK and devolved governments should be subject to a thorough overhaul involving collaboration between all governments of the UK with the aim of establishing shared governance around the machinery that supports the delivery of effective and fair inter-governmental relations.
  • The Llywydd should seek to establish with the other Speakers and Presiding Officers of UK legislatures, a Speakers’ Conference with the aim of determining how best to develop UK inter-parliamentary working, particularly as a means of scrutinising the impact of withdrawal from the European Union on the constitutional framework of the UK. The Speakers’ Conference should also assesses the state of inter-governmental relations, with a view to helping building consensus on reform.

A Speakers’ Conference

The Speaker’s conference is a rarely-used type of formal inquiry into the arrangements governing elections in the UK, although one was held on devolution in 1919 . According to a House of Commons Library Standard Note, it is a manifestation of the constitutional convention that changes to the electoral system should be agreed as far as possible on an all-party basis.

There are no fixed or statutory rules governing the creation of a Speaker’s conference. However previous conferences have been established by the Prime Minister issuing an invitation to the Speaker to preside over an all-party conference.

There were five Speaker’s conferences on matters to do with electoral law and electoral reform in the twentieth century. As Prime Minister, Gordon Brown revived the practice in September 2007, announcing that a new Speaker’s conference would be established to consider how to counter declining electoral turnout and boost representation of women and ethnic minorities in the House of Commons.

In its report the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs  Committee considers the main role for a Speakers’ Conference would be in relation to developing a framework for inter-parliamentary relations. However, it also saw merit in it having a role in relation to inter-governmental relations to assess how they are developing at this crucial period in the evolution of the constitution of the UK.

Mick Antoniw AM, Chair of the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee said:

We see a Speakers’ Conference as a way of increasing understanding and cooperation between UK parliamentary institutions at a crucial period in the evolution of the constitution of the UK.


Article by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service