8 The Internal Market Bill and Brexit
The Brexit process proved fraught for the devolved administrations – this was compounded by an apparent failure to engage by the successive UK Governments.
Difficult relations appeared compounded by governments of different political persuasions: Labour in Cardiff, SNP in Edinburgh and Conservative in London.
These issues came to a head in Autumn 2020 with the UK Internal Market Bill. The UK Government stated the purpose of the Bill was to:
guarantee the continued seamless functioning of the UK's internal market … by enshrining the principle of mutual recognition into law, our proposals will ensure regulations from one part of the UK are recognised across the country.
However, the devolved nations had significant concerns that the Bill would bring about a recentralisation of power, as it reserved competence over state aid and subsidies to the Westminster parliament and gave the UK Government new spending powers in devolved areas. The devolved nations feared the UK Government would use these powers to fund organisations directly and promote UK Government priorities which may not be aligned with those of the devolved governments.
The Senedd and the Scottish Parliament refused to consent to a request from the UK Government to agree to this course of action. The Bill was passed regardless in December 2020 although the ‘common frameworks’ were proposed as a means of agreeing divergence. The Scottish and Welsh Governments remained unsatisfied and began preparing to take the UK Government to the Supreme Court in 2021.
Do you believe the UK Government was acting prudently to preserve the functioning of the UK’s internal market or endangering the devolution settlement?
The answer to this question may take many years to emerge as the UK adapts to life outside the European Union. Undoubtedly the way in which the Conservative government of the day approached this question put untenable strain on relations. Failure to at the very least acknowledge the concerns of the devolved governments fuelled growing movements for constitutional change in all parts of the UK.
This was the first session of the Assembly which did not see a wide-ranging review of functions conducted although there was an expert panel on size and electoral arrangements for the Assembly and a Commission on Justice. Many of the significant changes which occurred in this time were realisations of earlier transfers of power.