It feels like a lifetime ago, but some of us still remember that Boris Johnson promised us that Brexit will be a titanic success. The pledge might have been uttered in the usual schoolboy air of cocksure braggadocio, but as Brexit is sinking in, Johnson might have been right all along, obviously not intentionally. With calls to reverse Brexit and the realisation of how colossal a feat it might end up to be, voters, politicians and businesses are evaluating possibilities of post-Brexit futures or simply ways to annul Brexit. With a new report from the House of Lords’ EU committee out today, stressing the challenges of Brexit to the UK’s future, the question of whether Brexit will be a success or not shifts to a more pragmatic approach of dealing with the complexities and seeking flexible solutions.

The European Union Committee’s report on “Brexit: devolution inquiry” says that Brexit will create uncertainty and have a considerable impact on the future of the United Kingdom. The key findings focus on the complex competences of the devolved settlements and how EU law has been the “glue holding together the United Kingdom’s single market.” Changing the constitutional arrangements and reshaping the powers of the devolved nations will be an important part of Brexit and would demand the UK and devolved governments’ constructive collaboration to protect the interests of all parts of the UK. 

Devolved governments

The report recognises that Brexit will fundamentally change the political landscape, especially the UK’s devolution settlements which, since 1997, have “developed incrementally and asymmetrically.” This constitutional challenge will become more obvious in certain areas such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment which are already devolved but have been in practise “exercised largely at EU level” which with Brexit, “will fall automatically to the devolved jurisdictions” creating clashes between the devolved nations and the UK government.

According to the Lord’s committee, these are further problematised by the situation in Northern Ireland. The Tory-DUP deal, the inability to form a power-sharing Executive and nationalist MPs not taking their seats in the new Parliament at Westminster yet, means that “instability” and the “erosion of cross-community support” could be imminent. In Scotland, the possibility of another Independent referendum and the Welsh and Scottish governments’ demands to be heard and their interests recognised during the Brexit negotiations are adding to the uncertainty, straining further their relations to the UK government. 

EU funding

Money is a big issue when it comes to Brexit and the dependence of the devolved jurisdictions on EU funding will be challenging, since Brexit would mean the loss of significant funds. The devolved jurisdictions “are major recipients of EU funding” especially when hill farmers are relying on funds which support “economically deprived areas.” Many areas in England will have to deal with similar changes, but the report finds that the devolved nations will find it very difficult. The publication admits that the Lords have heard “compelling evidence that the existing population-based method of allocating funding to the devolved jurisdictions will not adequately recompense them in the long term for the loss of EU funding.” Brexit no longer means Brexit but less money, and no EU funding.

EU migration

The devolved nations are also depending on EU migration “to meet labour needs and demographic challenges.” The report urges the UK government to rethink EU migration and try to manage migrant movement in such a way that meets the devolved nations’ needs. UK, Scottish and Welsh governments, and eventually all parts of the Northern Ireland Executive, need to work together to protect all of their respective interests. It stated that “No durable solution will be possible without the consent of all the nations of the UK.”

The Lords consented that the devolved administrations need to be taken into account and their “national, regional and local diversity” respected. This is why there need to be “common standards” to “maintain the integrity of the UK single market in collaboration with the devolved governments.” The report went further in recommending that the Joint Ministerial Committee should hold more regular meetings which are “synchronised with the cycle of the negotiation sin Brussels, allowing the devolved governments to influence negotiations, and the UK government to report back regularly on progress.” With Brexit “being a major constitutional change for the United Kingdom,” and a “source of instability,” the report adapted a sober tone calling for flexibility and positive attitudes, and urging the UK government to be more collaborative and understanding of the demands of the devolved jurisdictions. It warned that a “power-grab” that will take powers away from the devolved nations will add to the instability and that now is not the time to “to embark on controversial amendments to the devolution settlements.” In this respect, the report agreed that Brexit makes the issue of the devolution settlements and any possible future reform a pressing matter and concludes that there needs to be a clear set of principles to ensure that devolution develops coherently and that devolved legislatures stay unchanged.

The Lords’ advice to the government was to basically abandon its previous approach and engage with the devolved institutions in a more productive manner, while other voices argued that the devolved governments should be treated as “regions and states in federal systems.” It was evident that the peers were urging for clarity, coherence and consistency achieved through harmonious discussions of mutual interests, as important ways to avoid a post-Brexit UK ridden in chaos and dispute.