Westminster deals ‘demoralizing’, say former ministers of devolved nations | UK News
The UK government’s dealings with devolved nations have been described by former ministers as ‘demoralizing’, ‘depressing’ and lacking in understanding of the issues in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
As former Brexit minister David Frost is tipped to take charge of union issues in a potential Liz Truss government, nine former ministers from the Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast governments have spoken out about their quarrels and frustrations with Westminster during interviews with the Institute for Government.
Michael Russell, Scotland’s former cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs, described how ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland used to complain about interference from a senior Tory minister who would be “lovely to you” but then “would come out and short wildly” against them.
Jeane Freeman, Scotland’s former cabinet secretary for health, complained that the UK government ‘just doesn’t understand [devolution] and they paid no attention to it”.
Some powers, including economic, health and justice matters, have been devolved to the three nations since 1998, but the Scottish National Party’s desire to hold another independence referendum in Scotland and the he impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland remain major fault lines in the union.
The potential appointment of Lord Frost, known for his pugnacious approach, as head of the Cabinet Office raises the prospect of deadlier battles to come.
Michael Russell, Scotland’s former cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs, said tensions between London and the devolved nations had grown under Boris Johnson’s rule.
“I think the difference between the May and Johnson administrations is that there was recognition under [Theresa] May, however limited and reluctant, the legitimate interests of devolved governments and their rights were, when there was nothing but contempt for devolution from the Johnson government, expressed at all levels, even by territorial state secretaries,” he said.
Freeman, a two-time minister at Holyrood, said the lack of interest in devolved government was not limited to the Conservative Party.
“That was also my experience with the Labor Party – [the UK government] don’t understand devolution…and they didn’t pay any attention to it.
Máirtín Ó Muilleoir of Sinn Féin said working with the UK government was ‘demoralizing, depressing’ and ‘a waste of my time’, while Stephen Farry, Alliance MP for North Down and former employment minister for Stormont, complained that the Devolved government in Belfast was like a “clearing house” with Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party sharing the agenda.
“There wasn’t really a sense of ‘here’s a vision of where we want to take Northern Ireland,'” he told the IfG.
The DUP is boycotting Stormont over Brexit, but Farry says when he was in devolved government 10 years ago there was “almost collegiality” between the party and arch-rival Sinn Féin.
Alun Davies, the former agriculture minister and Welsh Labor member of the Senedd in Wales, complained that the recently deceased Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, had turned into a ” monster” attacking not only the decisions of the decentralized government, but the “fact that we exist” with “ridiculous” comments.
“I fundamentally disagree with what the UK government says and does… but I am not attacking their right to exist,” he said.
Claire Sugden, independent trade unionist and former Justice Minister of Northern Ireland, spoke about the importance of showing respect to political opponents.
“It’s not this person I work with, it’s the office they’ve been assigned to, and in most cases it’s thousands of people. So when I disrespect that individual, I disrespect the people he represents,” she said.
A government spokesperson said: “We have seen positive cooperation with decentralized governments on key issues, including the conduct of the international response against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and on COVID-19.
“Earlier this year we published a landmark agreement outlining how we are strengthening relationships for the benefit of people across the UK and so far there have been over 160 meetings with the UK government and deputy ministers .”