Protecting devolution in Brexit

Stephen Smellie
Stephen Smellie

During what has been dubbed “the Brexit debate” at conference, delegates backed Northern Ireland’s call to campaign for the devolution settlement to be respected throughout the process of developing and implementing the Great Repeal Bill.

UNISON will press for legislative consent from the devolved nations and a commitment from the UK Government not to claw back already devolved powers; and for further devolution of powers including any repatriated from the EU.

The two amendments from Scotland and  Lanarkshire Health looked to strengthen the role of the devolved nations with an emphasis on human rights, involvement and autonomy.

Scotland Depute Convener Stephen Smellie moved Scotland’s amendment, telling conference that negotiations around Brexit must not be used to dilute powers devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

“It is important that the devolved parliaments get a say in what powers being repatriated from Europe go to Westminster and which to the devolved parliaments,” he added.

Katrina Murray
Katrina Murray

But it is also important to ensure the engagement of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in the union approach and to emphasise the importance of ensuring that human rights remain central to all law-making in Scotland under the Scotland Act 1998; in Northern Ireland under the NI Act 1998; and in Wales under the Government of Wales Act 2006, all of which state that “all laws must be compatible with human rights.

He welcomed the fact that hard Brexit and the Tories ambitions to water down commitments to human rights is no longer achievable.

“However we need to be vigilant that human rights remain central to all law making in the UK,” warned Stephen.

“And that the Tories don’t use Brexit or austerity or security issues to weaken human rights in the UK.

Moving Lanarkshire Health’s amendment, Katrina Murray told delegates that she has been a political activist for a long time, a UNISON rep for more than 20 years, a Labour Party activist for longer than that and over that time has felt all ranges of emotions.

“And never in my life have I ever been so angry. Proper four letter word angry.

“I’m angry about the way that the people of this country have been treated as fools. I’m angry about the way that we lied to about £350m a week going to the NHS. I’m angry about how the future of our country was put in jeopardy by a bunch of gangsters in the cabinet.

“And I’m furious about how my friends and colleagues who have come to call my community and my city home have felt unwelcome and unsafe for the last year just because of the country they were born in or the colour of their skin”

She told conference that it has become increasingly clear that the aftermath of the EU ref would have a dramatically different impact on each of the 4 countries which make up our country. In Scotland, the First Minister created a Standing Council on Europe which laid out 3 options for Scotland’s place in Europe.

This includes Scotland seeks an innovative differentiated solution, whereby it remains a member of the single market through the European Economic Area and a part of the UK even as the rest of the UK departs.

“Is this option possible?” asked Katrina. “It’s certainly ambitious. It’s pretty radical and unprecedented. But it is possible.

“It won’t be easy, but nothing is. It will require political will. It will require a desire to work together not just amongst the devolved administration and the UK government but also across Europe,” warned Katrina.

“If the last 2 years have taught us anything it is that the only certainty is uncertainty. It’s time to rip up the political rule book that no longer exists. It’s time to re- establish the founding principles of devolution.”

However, while backing the motion and Scotland’s amendment, Conference saw Lanarkshire Health’s call for each of the devolved administrations to be able to reach their own positions on access to the single market a step too far and it was lost.

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