Beyond Brexit? How to assess the UK’s future – a new resource

The EU flag, with the Brexit on it appear, in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.

By Steven McGinty

Although Brexit negotiations are officially underway, there is no clear vision of how the UK will look once it’s left the European Union.  Politicians – including those within government – appear to be divided on the issue, with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s wish for a softer Brexit seemingly at odds with Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

This uncertainty has left businesses, local authorities, and the general public struggling to plan for the future, and in search of answers to help navigate these difficult Brexit waters.

One valuable resource they may turn to is Professor Janice Morphet’s new book, Beyond Brexit? How to assess the UK’s future.

In this short guide, Professor Morphet – an expert in infrastructure, the EU and public policy – takes a long term view and attempts to understand the whole range of options that may be deployed by the UK, EU, and other international institutions.

Below we’ve outlined some of the main themes of the book.

Implications for devolved nations and territories

The impact of the EU referendum result has been strongly felt by the devolved nations and territories.

For example, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has argued that Scotland (where 62% voted to stay in the EU) should be recognised in the Brexit negotiations, and that Scotland should be allowed to come to an arrangement on continued EU membership.

Similarly, Gibraltar (where 96% voted in favour of remaining in the EU) is looking to retain access to the EU’s single market and free access across the EU border. There have also been diplomatic tensions, with the suggestion that there should be no UK/EU agreement – that includes Gibraltar – without the consent of Spain.

But beyond these specific issues, Professor Morphet raises the wider point that EU legislation is a fundamental component of specific devolved powers.

This is because much of the powers devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are derived from legislation initially agreed within the EU. In Professor Morphet’s view, devolved nations will need clarification on how they’d retain decision-making powers, including whether a new set of powers would need to be introduced. One suggestion discussed is the need to create a federal constitution guaranteeing the devolution arrangements.

Benefits of the EU

During the referendum campaign there was limited discussion on the value of EU membership. Even the Remain campaign focused on the negative impact of leaving, rather than the positive impact of being a member of the EU.

Professor Morphet provides an authoritative look at some of these benefits, including the:

  • importance of being inside the world’s largest market;
  • ability to engage diplomatically as part of a global diplomatic group;
  • development of an EU-wide energy policy, ensuring energy security; and
  • commitment to achieving higher environmental stands across the EU.

Options for future UK/EU institutional relationships

Much of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be dependent on the current Brexit negotiations. As such, it’s unclear whether the UK will achieve a bespoke arrangement with the EU, gain an agreement similar to another country (such as the Norway or the Swiss models) or if there will be any deal at all.

Professor Morphet discusses this wide variety of options, and considers some of the challenges for the UK Government – who at the moment appear undecided on how far outside the EU they would like to be.

Immediate actions that must be taken by the UK

Before the EU Referendum result many high profile individuals and institutions claimed the UK economy would collapse. This included former Chancellor George Osborne, who suggested there would need to be an emergency Brexit Budget, and the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney, who warned that the UK risked heading into a recession.

However, even though the economic slowdown has not occurred, there have been signs that the referendum result has impacted the UK on a variety of levels. For instance, Professor Morphet highlights that there has been an effective 11-16% devaluation of the pound, and that inflation is likely to rise in 2017. For her, stabilising the economy should be the priority for the UK government, arguing that it needs to offer a clear view of Brexit to reduce the political uncertainty.

Final thoughts

Professor Morphet’s latest book is a must read for anyone with an interest in how the country will look post Brexit. By her own admittance, the book does not provide all the answers, but it does provide a framework for making sure the right questions are asked during the negotiation period and beyond.


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Devolution, for and against: a tale of many cities

Image: The Dickens Museum, by Peter Curbishley via Creative Commons

Image: The Dickens Museum, by Peter Curbishley via Creative Commons

By Rebecca Riley

In his classic quote, Dickens describes a time of great change, and the conditions which were forcing that change: industrial and technological revolution; growth in knowledge and education; oppressed conditions of the working class and lack of hope within a time of great progress. In France this led to revolution, in Britain it led to eras of philanthropy, growth in a new middle class, and extensive governmental and democratic reform within a broader struggle by the establishment to retain power.

Today, we are faced with similar conditions: huge technological change; growing inequality; uneven distribution of power and funds – but the demand for change is coming from the cities and local leadership, not from an oppressed working class. This is creating a resurgence in the call for greater devolution, which has gathered speed since the end of the 20th century. So what are some of the arguments for and against devolution, and what will be the impact?

The ‘for’ argument

Currently Britain has a patchwork of devolved powers, with devolved nations having greater control over local issues. Here local government already makes decisions on local issues and this ensures discussions and decisions are made at the appropriate spatial level. However, unlike other countries such as Canada, this is a combined self- and shared- rule, with central government still able to legislate in the devolved areas (in practice they don’t without the consent of the devolved government). This does, however, lead to one of the greatest arguments for further devolution, as England does not have a similar structure and there is no opportunity for any self-rule. In demographic terms, areas such as Manchester and Wales have similar populations, but Wales has much greater control over its own destiny.

This concentration of effort can streamline the decision making process as decisions are made by the people who know the issues and can implement the solutions. National government is freed up to discuss issues of national importance and the ‘bigger picture’. There is also the potential that decision making at a local level is more effective, because of the greater belief in a common goal by decision makers as they focus on the enhancement of their own local area.

Currently the devolved nations don’t have their own tax raising powers and are still funded via a block grant from central government. Greater powers over taxation could lead to greater competition and ensure money raised in an area is reinvested in that area. However, this could also continue to widen the gap between rich and poor areas.

The ‘against’ argument

One of the arguments against devolution is cost. Devolving decision making from a central system, which has been doing this effectively for a long time, would increase the time taken for decisions and the associated structure changes needed to implement them. And there is a possibility of constitutional instability. What happens if the city or regional government clashes with national government? How does this get resolved? Who do we appeal to? National government?

Current devolution structures are not all the same. Scotland has control over policing, Northern Ireland doesn’t. In Wales some powers are devolved to the assembly not the government, so structures, powers and legislation varies, and therefore the devolved governments are not all equal. This uneven devolved decision making can also lead to a postcode lottery. One of the starkest examples of this is university tuition fees, where a student in England looks at debts in excess of £27k for fees, while Scotland has not introduced them.

Many also see devolution as the start of the break-up of the United Kingdom which would lead to a weakening of the national government, and its position in world politics.

But what do the people want?

The recent Scottish referendum which asked “Should Scotland be an independent country?” returned a no vote with a 10% majority, on an unprecedented 84% turnout. Other referendums on devolution-related topics have fared less well on voter engagement: the Greater London Authority was established with a 72% majority on a 34% turnout; and the last limited devolution referendum in England was in the North East in 2004, where it was rejected, by nearly 80% of voters on a 47% turnout.

The Scottish question was a single issue campaign which people understood and engaged with, unlike the devolution debate in general. This has become enmashed in other policy areas such as health, education and planning, rather than being a single policy debate in its own right.  Generally, there is a lack of discussion with the electorate about what devolution could be trying to achieve:

  • A democratic voice for local areas and the structures needed to do that consistently and fairly;
  • Ensuring decision making is based on knowledge or the needs, requirements and opportunities of the local population;
  • Ability to create competitive local economies, that play to strengths and tackle micro-economic issues;
  • Streamlining government structures and preserving the whole country as an economic power;
  • The need to develop transparent decision making structures, which everyone can engage with;
  • A planning system which ensures strategic decisions are made which support local place development;
  • Ensure access to services, such as education, health and social care meet consistent, national standards but respond to local requirements;
  • Ensure a fair, place-based spending approach, which invests in places without widening the gap between them, and is balanced by social justice.

There are clear arguments for and against devolution, and whereas Dickens popularised political discussion in the nineteenth century by creating a narrative people related to (serialised in ‘cheap’ papers which the growing educated population and new middle classes could access) the majority of the electorate today is not engaged in these discussions. In the run up to the general election, there is a lack of populist narrative about devolution and, as a result, change could be implemented without full democratic participation and an understanding of the impacts.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on devolution, democracy and political engagement. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further Reading:

Manifesto for Local Economies

Devolution: the basics

Devo Met: charting a path ahead

The future of planning and place making

Getting to the heart of devolution in Manchester (new approaches to integrated health and care)

A healthy new direction or a costly gamble? (devolution of health and social care budget to Greater Manchester)

Governing in an ever looser union: how the four governments of the UK co-operate, negotiate and compete

The agenda: devolution (devolution to non-metropolitan areas)

The implications of devolution for England