The government must seek to re-evaluate the means of communication between devolved administrations and Westminster to combat any constitutional problems that may arise due to Brexit, according to a new report from the public administration and constitutional affairs committee.
Current mechanisms for devolution among are currently “not fit for purpose”, as can be seen by the lack of consultation with devolved governments over the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the committee concluded.
A lack of government clarity on devolution policies in England is also leading to an “increasing disconnection of the English people from the political system”, committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin (Con) said.
Sir Bernard said: “The present machinery for developing inter-governmental relations is flimsy, and there is nothing to give the various parts of England a say. Ignoring this risks the future relations within the UK.
“We set out a path to reconciling differences and building strong relationships across the UK, which recognises that many parts of England have more in common with parts of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland than they do with London and the South East.”
The new report recommends the government considers “extending the existing decentralisation of powers and funding to combined authorities and mayors to a greater number of areas”. It added: “Moreover, the government should draw up plans for how decentralisation to more rural areas of England might effectively be pursued.”
The report also recommended establishing a ‘devolution policy for the union’, in which the government should “consider devolving whole areas of competence and not piecemeal powers within England”.
The report cites the oral evidence of London mayor Sadiq Khan (Lab), who told the committee that England currently suffers from a “democratic deficit”, caused by a “disconnect between Whitehall and residents around the country”.
“What we want is for this Parliament to decide that there needs to be devolution. There then needs to be acts of Parliament or secondary legislation for that to be effected, and Parliament needs to be comfortable giving these powers and resources to cities, towns and regions across the country,” the mayor said.
Responding to the report, Centre for Cities chief executive Andrew Carter said: “This report is welcome recognition of the progress that has been made on the city region devolution in recent years, and the need to go further on this agenda as the UK leaves the EU.
“The most immediate task for government should be to prioritise devolution deals for the remaining big cities in England yet to agree one, which would extend devolution to cover nearly half the population of England.
“We also back the select committee’s call for a systematic post-Brexit review of governance structures across the UK. It should have a working assumption to devolve policies and funding to the city or city region level wherever appropriate.”