Constitution expert: May “hasn’t answered” questions on future UK constitution after FM talks

Prime Minister has “limited options” for holding country together in face of Brexit, with now sign of more united union amid constitutional crisis

A LEADING Scottish constitutional expert has criticised Prime Minister Theresa May for failing to outlining what a future post Brexit UK might look like, after the constitutional crisis has upended the UK’s devolved settlement.

Before her meeting with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow, speaking in a bid to shore up the union ahead of a Scottish Parliament vote on a second referendum today (28 March) and the beginning of the formal process of the UK exiting the EU on Wednesday (29 March), May told staff at the Department for International Development (DFID) in East Kilbride that Brexit would bring about a “more united nation”.

Speaking to CommonSpace after May’s meeting with Sturgeon, Dr Alan Convery of the Centre on Constitutional Change asserted that it was “difficult” to understand May’s assertion that greater unity could emerge from Brexit.

“The question hasn’t [been] answered, what kind of UK will we have after Brexit even if everything works out in your [UK Government’s] favour? It’s difficult to see how Brexit can act as a catalyst for a more united kingdom.” Dr Alan Convery

Convery, who is a lecturer in politics at Aberdeen University, said: “The question hasn’t [been] answered, what kind of UK will we have after Brexit even if everything works out in your [UK Government’s] favour?

“It’s difficult to see how Brexit can act as a catalyst for a more united kingdom.

 “The whole EU setup undergirded the whole UK constitutional and devolution settlement, in ways that no one really noticed.

“What the UK Government has not really thought of is what kind of devolution settlement is the UK going to have and on what basis will Scotland be staying in the UK

“The UK Government argued in the Supreme Court that the Sewel convention was a convention and not something that had to be adhered to.

“Before Brexit you could have seen the UK moving gradually to a more federal type system now it seems the UK Government has pushed back against that.”

The UK constitutional settlement has been left in a chaotic state by the Brexit process. The Supreme Court ruled in January that the UK Parliament did not require the consent of devolved parliaments for Brexit, undermining the Sewel convention which requires devolved parliamentary consent over issues that impact their functions.

“Before Brexit you could have seen the UK moving gradually to a more federal type system now it seems the UK Government has pushed back against that.”

Before May’s discussions with Sturgeon, the UK Government said talks would not cover an independence referendum, and that no new devolution deal was in contemplation, though a package of ‘temporary powers’ could be given to Scotland to ease the transition phase from EU to UK law.

Convery went on to say that May was struggling within her “limited options” to appease all sides in the Brexit argument – her own rightwing Brexit back benchers, the Tory party centre and Scotland and Northern Ireland, which voted against Brexit and whose leading parties want a separate deal to protect the European relationships.

“The problem is that Theresa May has limited options here. She’s trying to appeal to different constituencies at a time when she doesn’t want to be boxed in, in terms of the negotiations.

“Ultimately Theresa May has to deliver Brexit, but she doesn’t want to be the Prime Minister who presided over the brake-up of the UK.

“Theresa May has a difficult job

“She feels she needs to respect the Brexit vote and how’s parts of the Conservative party have interpreted what the vote means in terms of immigration and the powers of the European Court of Justice.

“Another Wing of the Conservative party are more concerned about the economy and market access.

“If they didn’t see this coming they ought to have seen it coming. People on the remain side were warning that this would happen.”

“Another matter is the constitutional situation for Scotland. A Brexit deal that could be sold as less extreme could hold the UK together.

He also suggested that the UK Government could be reacting to being caught off-guard by Sturgeon’s announcement she would pursue a second referendum. Speaking at Bute House on 13 March, Sturgeon said that the UK Government’s failure to work towards a compromise between Edinburgh and London on Brexit made an independence referendum necessary.

“If they didn’t see this coming they ought to have seen it coming,” Convery said.

“People on the remain side were warning that this would happen.”

Convery speculated that future attempts to keep Scotland in the UK may involve attempts to talk up the benefits of Brexit, including to Scottish fishing communities. However, this would likely not give Scotland freedom to organise its own separate relationship with the EU.

“She may be seeking to deliver on specific Scottish interests during the EU negotiations, but as part of the UK negotiations as a whole, not as part of a differentiated deal.”

The Scotland office was contacted for comment, but did not respond.

Picture courtesy of First Minister of Scotland

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