Is the UK straining at the seams?

by Michael Kenny and Jack Sheldon

At the end of February, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington delivered to little fanfare one of the most significant speeches made by any UK minister about the UK’s future after Brexit. He set out how Theresa May’s government’s will approach the thorny question of powers returned from the EU which fall within the jurisdiction of the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, including those relating to farming, fishing and the environment. He maintained that the approach he proposed would allow the issue to be dealt with equitably, and expressed the government’s dual commitments to the devolution settlement and the integrity of the United Kingdom.

The speech also included a low-key, but notable, shift in policy as he revealed that the government would work on the presumption that devolved powers should remain devolved once Brexit happens (rather than being held initially by the UK government). He stressed too the importance of protecting the internal ‘common market’ as he simultaneously made the case for the establishment of UK-wide frameworks in areas such as package labelling and hygiene rules. These should initially be overseen by Whitehall in order to ensure that problematic kinds of regulatory divergence do not ensue.