Devolution since the Brexit Referendum

Paper setting out the impact on the devolution settlement and the Scottish Parliament of key UK Government decisions since the referendum on EU withdrawal in 2016.


This paper sets out the impact on devolution and on the powers and responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament of key UK Government decisions since the referendum on EU withdrawal in 2016. The paper draws on evidence and examples and explains the effects of the UK Government’s actions, including:

  • Passing legislation – without its agreement – that reduces the effective powers of the Scottish Parliament, and allows UK Ministers to make further changes unilaterally, such as including provision of healthcare in the UK internal market
  • Giving powers to UK Ministers to intervene directly in matters within the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament again without agreement
  • Undermining the Sewel Convention, that the Westminster Parliament will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament
  • Blocking legislation on devolved matters passed by the Scottish Parliament for the first time
  • Proceeding with a form of Brexit which the majority of Scotland did not vote for, with major adverse impacts on Scotland’s interests and economy
  • Taking forward legislation that puts at risk EU laws on environmental protection, food standards and other devolved matters
  • Taking a direct role in devolved policy and decisions on public spending on devolved matters, bypassing the Scottish Parliament
  • Reducing funding available to Scotland compared to that expected from equivalent EU funding schemes, potentially by some hundreds of millions

There was always a risk that the Brexit process would result in greater centralisation in Whitehall and Westminster [1].  Fundamental changes can now be seen in the relationship between the governments and the parliaments at Westminster and Holyrood, through actions affecting devolved matters which have been opposed by the Scottish Parliament. 

Instead of recognising the role of Scotland’s devolved democratic institutions and respecting their choices, or extending an approach based on agreement and consensus, the UK Government’s approach increasingly asserts Westminster’s authority over the Scottish Parliament and Government, something not previously seen under and inconsistent with devolution. 

There are highly significant consequences from the UK Government’s approach. 

  • They have the real practical impacts on Scotland set out in this paper:  environmental protections on plastics and recycling are delayed and diluted; protections inherited from the EU are at risk of being repealed without agreement from Scotland; legislation on the rights of children has been delayed; the Scottish Parliament’s decision on reforming the law on gender recognition has been blocked.
  • These developments have eroded devolution, the self-government of Scotland voted for by the people of Scotland in the 1997 referendum, and they obstruct the democratic choices made by the Scottish Parliament, elected by the people of Scotland.
  • Most fundamentally, the UK Government is taking decisions on devolved areas – spending money, setting policy targets, ignoring the views of the Scottish Parliament.  The devolution settlement recognised there would be difference in priorities and political outlook between Scotland and other parts of the UK: by imposing its view in this way the UK Government fundamentally undermines Scotland’s democracy.
Back to top