EU exit could help ‘rebalance’ UK constitution, says Jenkin

24 Aug 16

A leading Brexit campaigner has said negotiations to leave the EU represent an opportunity to “rebalance the whole of the United Kingdom constitution”.

Speaking to PF, Bernard Jenkin MP, who was a member of the board of Vote Leave and is also chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs select committee, said many parts of the UK, including the devolved nations, felt distant from Westminster. The eventual return of powers from the EU would allow for “a new conversation” about how the UK state is structured, he said.

A major effect of leaving would be the freeing up of policy areas where the EU is involved, he stated.

“This is a really big constitutional question – to what extent are Whitehall and Westminster going to automatically delegate things like fishing and agriculture, and environment and planning, the powers that are held in reserve by Westminster by virtue of our membership of the European Union?

“Are we going to allow this automatic devolution, or are we going to maintain a reservation of these European Union powers and devolve them in a planned manner? There is a big interesting question about how leaving the European Union actually involves all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom and, in England, local government.”

Ensuring all parts of the UK were involved in the negotiations around Brexit would therefore be important, he said. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, while Wales and England voted to leave.

The fact that communities felt distant from decisions in Westminster was one of the lessons of the EU referendum campaign, he added.

“The way that Westminster is preoccupied with English matters that are otherwise devolved to the assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has a very distorting effect on our politics and political culture and is itself divisive,” he stated.

Other key areas Jenkin said would arise from Brexit talks were a need for Whitehall to increase its capability in a range of areas, particularly trade. Civil servants would also need to “get used to the freedoms to do things”, he added. “Ministers regularly say how frighteningly often they were told they could not do something because of some cautious interpretation of some directive or EU regulation. The freedom that officials have to give advice to ministers is going to be greatly enhanced in many areas.”

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