An influential group of peers is calling on the UK Government to “raise its game” in consulting the devolved administrations on Brexit.
The Lords European Union Committee report, published today, also urges ministers to “bite the bullet” and replace the Barnett Formula with a needs-based funding arrangement.
Lord Jay of Ewelme, a crossbench member of the committee, said the UK Government must “respect the devolved institutions”, “take account of what they say” and “adjust its approach to accommodate their specific needs”.
The former head of the diplomatic service added: “Equally the devolved administrations must work with, not against, the UK Government to get the best Brexit for the whole of the UK.
“At the moment the internal politics are pretty toxic…
“We can’t afford this.”
Pointing to the “uncoordinated” nature of devolution thus far, he added: “For the last 20 years the EU and its institutions have helped hold together an increasingly devolved UK.
“In the long-term we will need real reform. We will need to agree guiding principles and finally replace the Barnett Formula with a needs-based funding arrangement.”
The report says: “We urge the government to raise its game in making the joint ministerial council (European negotiations) more effective.”
It suggests more regular meetings, a structured work programme and insists the JMC should be authorised to agree “common positions on matters affecting devolved competences”.
It also advocates synchronising meetings with the cycle of negotiations in Brussels and warns against “any attempt to use Brexit to make a power-grab” – either to re-reserve powers previously devolved or to claim more devolved powers.
It adds: “Brexit means that it is now time finally to bite the bullet and replace the Barnett Formula with a needs-based funding arrangement.
“This will be a complex task, but the prospect of Brexit means that reform of the Barnett Formula can be delayed no longer.”
SNP foreign affairs and Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins criticised the UK Government’s “top down approach”.
He said: “We agree with committee members that UK ministers should not impose a settlement on the devolved governments and parliaments but instead should work in partnership with them.”
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale added: “We will seek a clear and binding commitment to repatriate powers in devolved areas to the Scottish Parliament.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “We have been clear that the repeal bill will not take away any decision-making powers from the devolved administrations immediately after exit.
“Instead, to protect the UK internal market, some decision-making powers being transferred into UK law will be held temporarily to allow intensive discussion and consultation with the devolved administrations.
“It is our expectation that the outcome of this process will provide a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration and we are committed to positive and productive engagement.”