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Drakeford: UK must be based on a partnership of equals

Drakeford: UK must be based on a partnership of equals

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford has said that the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be based on a partnership of equals in order for the UK to thrive.

Announcing an ambitious plan today, Mr Drakeford said that relationships within the UK need to be reset because "too often we see the UK Government act in an aggressively unilateralist way."

An updated version of the 'Reforming Our Union' plan has been published, with the First Minister setting out 20 points that he believes will make the UK stronger and work better for everyone. A previous version of the plan was published in October 2019 - the new version comes amid different political circumstances after Brexit and as the UK recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of the key ideas in the updated plan include the proposed devolution of justice and policing to Wales, like is already the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Other proposals focus on increasing the involvement of ministers and officials from the devolved nations in the formulation of policies around international relations and also giving more responsibilities to the House of Lords regarding protecting the constitution and devolution.

Speaking about the updated plan, First Minister Mark Drakeford said;

"It’s time for relationships to be reset. The principles and ways of working we have outlined would lead to the strong and durable Union – a Union which we believe would deliver the best outcomes for the people of Wales and the wider United Kingdom."

 

What are the 20 ideas in the plan?

The 20 ideas that are outlined in 'Reforming Our Union' are as follows;

Basic principles

  1. The United Kingdom is a voluntary union of four nations – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – which come together to share resources and risks.
  2. Devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a permanent feature of the United Kingdom and cannot be undone, without the agreement of the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  3. It is very difficult to explain – and justify – the differences between the devolution settlements of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Powers should be held at the most local level possible.

Law-making powers

  1. Each parliament in the UK – whether that’s the Senedd, the Scottish Parliament, Stormont in Northern Ireland or the House of Commons – should be able to decide its own size and how its members are elected.
  2. The UK Parliament should not normally make law in relation to matters, which are decided on in another part of the UK without express consent. These arrangements must be properly set out.
  3. A new, centralised source of funding should be found to pay for the running costs of the Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly, similar to how the UK Parliament is funded.
  4. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should continue to be represented in the House of Commons. But the House of Lords should be reformed to reflect the make-up of the United Kingdom and be given the job of protecting the constitution and devolution.

Relationships between governments

  1. The relationship between the four governments in the UK – the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive – should be based on a partnership of equals, mutual respect and be fair.
  2. Ministers in every part of the UK should carry out – and be held to account for – their responsibilities in their own country, without being challenged by Ministers from another government. The UK Government should not fund other governments’ responsibilities without their consent.
  3. There should be well-organised and regular opportunities for governments to work together on shared issues for the good of all people in the UK.
  4. Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should have a say in the UK’s approach to international relations and trade because these decisions have an impact on decisions made in all parts of the UK.
  5. When UK-wide bodies are being created or reformed they must work for the whole UK – not just one part of it.
  6. A single civil service should continue to support the Welsh, Scottish and UK governments – and work closely with the Northern Ireland civil service – provided its values of independence and impartiality are guaranteed.

Finance

  1. Funding levels should be based on need – this will mean a fair level of funding is available across the UK for all. The UK Government should not be able to make funding available outside these arrangements without consent.
  2. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be funded by a combination of a needs-based grant from the UK Government and funding raised by devolved and local taxes and through borrowing.
  3. A new independent public body, which is accountable to all four UK governments, should oversee these funding arrangements, instead of the UK Government.
  4. Each government should determine its own tax and spending priorities and be held to account for these decisions.

Justice and the Courts

  1. Justice and policing should be devolved to Wales as it is already is to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  2. The membership of the Supreme Court should reflect the make-up of the United Kingdom.

The constitution

  1. A Constitutional Convention should be set up, with membership from all parts of the UK, to properly consider changes to the way the UK is governed and the relationship between the four nations.

 

Analysis

First Minister Mark Drakeford said that a reset is needed in relations within the UK - events over the last year would seem to support that argument. Debates around and the process of Brexit clearly strained the union, and the coronavirus pandemic has perhaps made the need for a refresh to relations even more pertinent.

At multiple points last year, there were concerns raised about communication breakdowns between Downing Street and the devolved administrations, and despite claims that there would be a four-nation approach to tackling parts of the pandemic, this often did not appear to happen in reality. For example, the devolved administrations weren't especially supportive of slogans such as 'Stay Alert' and somewhat diverged from joint plans for eased lockdown measures at Christmas.

The timing of the First Minister's updated plan may though raise questions and does not appear to have been popular with the UK Government. With the coronavirus crisis still ongoing, some will argue that now isn't the time to restructure relations.

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