Boris Johnson’s devolution tsar has said there needs to be a “fundamental change of culture” at the heart of government if the Union is to be strengthened.
Former Tory minister Andrew Dunlop told MPs there had been a “devolve and forget approach” in Whitehall for too long and said we now needed “a government for the Union”.
The peer called for the appointment of a “Secretary of State for the Union” to oversee four-nation relations and urged the prime minister to schedule regular meetings with his devolved counterparts to strengthen cross-government working.
The comments come two months after the publication of the Dunlop Review, which made more than 40 recommendations on devolution.
The review, which was set up by Theresa May in July 2019, was tasked with investigating how the Union could be strengthened after MPs concluded relations had “broken down” between the UK and Scottish governments.
Lord Dunlop, appearing before a House of Commons committee, said: “Over the last two decades devolution has been a major constitutional development and a lot of power has been transferred from the centre to the devolved institutions.
“But, what my review found was that Whitehall hasn’t really changed at all in response to devolution, we’ve had a sort of devolve and forget approach.
“My report is focused on how we get devolution and the union running through the bloodstream of the civil service.”
He added: “My view is that you don’t need a department for the Union, you need a government for the Union.
“Every secretary of state, every minister should have devolution and the union rushing through their their bloodstream.
“I think that does require a fundamental change of culture, until we get to that state I think we do need a Secretary of State for the Union driving that change.”
Lord Dunlop tells MPs he is disappointed by the 'quite limited' role for Boris Johnson in government proposals to strengthen the Union. He says the PM, aka minister for the union, should as a 'bare minimum' chair two meetings a year with devolved leaders (currently slated for 1)
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) May 20, 2021
A number of the proposals made by Lord Dunlop, such as moving parts of the civil service out of London, are already being implemented but for the proposed reforms of inter-governmental relations he had a suggestion.
“I think if there’s one aspect of the package that disappoints me, it’s that the role for the prime minister appears quite limited”, he said.
“I think it’s limited to one meeting (with devolved leaders) a year, and it’s a meeting that he can delegate to somebody else.
“In my view the bare minimum is two meetings a year that the prime minister should absolutely chair, because this is about building better relationships.
“I would regard that as one of the key tests of how seriously the government takes the job of strengthening the Union.”