Stale­mate leaves us in the cold on ‘power grab’

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - News - with John Simp­son @bel­tel_busi­ness

The Scot­tish and Welsh Gov­ern­ments have jointly pub­lished pro­posed amend­ments to the Euro­pean Union (with­drawal bill) and de­scribe their ac­tions as try­ing to avoid a West­min­ster ‘power grab’.

If a North­ern Ire­land Ex­ec­u­tive had been in place, there would have been an ex­pec­ta­tion that th­ese fears would also have re­flected the wishes of the NI Assem­bly. Sadly, there is no ref­er­ence to an NI per­spec­tive in the sub­mis­sion.

The Scot­tish gov­ern­ment has iden­ti­fied 111 pol­icy ar­eas where it claims that the UK Gov­ern­ment has cre­ated an ar­range­ment where, un­less there is spe­cific West­min­ster ac­tion on poli­cies which should be de­volved, the ar­eas may be claimed as part of UK re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, re­duc­ing the scope of de­volved ad­min­is­tra­tions.

This pos­si­ble ad­just­ment of the de­volved re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in Scot­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land will oc­cur be­cause the re­peal of EU leg­is­la­tion by a trans­fer to the UK brings to­gether a full range of top­ics which in­evitably im­pinge on de­vo­lu­tion.

The Scots and Welsh want no diminu­tion of de­volved re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and want any doubt re­moved by seek­ing a di­rect trans­fer to the de­volved in­sti­tu­tions: not a two-stage process where the pow­ers re­turn to West­min­ster and then West­min­ster can de­cide which pow­ers go on to Ed­in­burgh and Cardiff.

For NI, this leg­isla­tive process raises unan­swered ques­tions. There is the pro­ce­dural ques­tion and then a se­ries of ques­tions on the sub­stan­tive poli­cies. The cen­tral ques­tion is whether, from a lo­cal per­spec­tive, NI would have the same in­ter­ests as the Scots and Welsh in adding the for­mer EU re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the Stor­mont agenda. High on the list of op­tions are ques­tions about de­ci­sion mak­ing on agri­cul­ture and fish­eries. Th­ese two big pol­icy ar­eas come with the added di­men­sion not just of de­volved au­thor­ity but in­clud­ing (or ex­clud­ing) re­spon­si­bil­ity for bud­getary al­lo­ca­tions.

Other ar­eas where the al­lo­ca­tion of de­volved re­spon­si­bil­i­ties poses ques­tions for both UK and lo­cal in­flu­ence, as quoted by the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment, in­clude en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion, land use, ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms, Europol, pub­lic sec­tor pro­cure­ment, rules on State Aid and forestry. The de­ci­sion-mak­ing on fish­eries poli­cies has a pos­si­ble cross-border di­men­sion. Even if, for the buy­ing and sell­ing of goods, the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions avoid an ex­plicit border mech­a­nism (which looks more and more dif­fi­cult as the talks stum­ble for­ward), for fish­eries the ques­tion will be­come the in­flu­ence of the ‘ border at sea’.

Will a spe­cial deal be ne­go­ti­ated to al­low Ir­ish and North­ern Ir­ish fish­ing ves­sels to have open ac­cess to the des­ig­nated fish­ing ar­eas on both sides of the ‘ border at sea’?

Will fish­ing boats from Kil­keel and Ard­glass work freely in Ir­ish catch­ment ar­eas?

Will fish be landed at Kil­keel or Ard­glass from Ir­ish ves­sels and come into the UK via NI?

If the UK in­tro­duces fish­ing quo­tas, how will they be rec­on­ciled with Ir­ish poli­cies?

Will the UK fish­eries pol­icy need to have dif­fer­en­ti­ated poli­cies for North­ern Ir­ish and Scot­tish reg­is­tered ves­sels?

De­vel­op­ing farm poli­cies will also test in­ge­nu­ity. The UK Min­is­ter, Michael Gove, has given NI farm­ers an early as­sur­ance that the bud­get for farm pol­icy in NI will (ini­tially) stay at the same pro­por­tion of all UK spend­ing on farm sup­ports. That may prove a use­ful base­line.

How­ever, does NI wish to have bud­get flex­i­bil­ity to spend that sum in ways de­vised at Stor­mont, or will a par­ity prin­ci­ple ap­ply: will NI have the same farm poli­cies?

In NI we have been too slow in de­bat­ing and de­cid­ing how th­ese ques­tions might be re­solved. Have any of the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers be­gun to con­sider ideas?

Si­lence is an in­ad­e­quate re­sponse.

Ques­tions about de­ci­sion mak­ing on fish­eries af­ter Brexit have to be an­swered

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