Pandemic puts UK decentralization in check

Guillermo Ximenis

London, Nov 21 (EFE) .- The management of the coronavirus pandemic has put the young British decentralization system in check, by straining the balance of powers between the four nations that make up the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland from North.

The repeated disagreements between London and the autonomous governments have brought to the fore in recent months the lack of coordination mechanisms between administrations in a State that does not have a written constitution.

Against this backdrop, calls have multiplied among experts to shore up the decentralized architecture designed by Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair just over twenty years ago, when the autonomous parliaments of Edinburgh and Cardiff were founded, and autonomy was regained in Ireland. of the North after the 1998 peace accords.

One of the most notable criticisms has come from the current British head of government, the conservative Boris Johnson, who has infuriated many this week by saying that Blair’s decentralization was a “mistake” and the autonomy of Scotland, in particular, has resulted. a disaster”.

His comment comes at a time when both the pandemic and Brexit (the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union) have driven Scottish independence to a record high of 58% in polls.

Supporters of secession in Wales have also advanced, up to 25%, and calls have been fueled for a future consultation on Irish unification in Ulster.

LOSS OF CONFIDENCE BETWEEN ADMINISTRATIONS

“During the first two months of the pandemic, there was a lot of cooperation between the autonomous governments. They thought that it would be in everyone’s interest to work together, although there was little mutual trust,” Michael Kenny, director of the Institute of Public Policies of the University of Cambridge.

“Very soon, that cooperation that the United Kingdom Executive was managing collapsed and each government tended to follow its own direction and make its own decisions,” the expert explained.

One of the first public signs of the conflict that was about to erupt came on May 10, when Johnson announced his roadmap to phase out the confinement measures that he had decreed a month and a half earlier.

The prime minister did not mention on a single occasion that his announcement affected only England, since it lacked the powers to make those decisions on behalf of the rest of the British nations.

For the first time in the health crisis, Scotland, Northern Ireland Wales had decided to deviate from the central government’s plan and make a slower de-escalation.

Most British people listening to Johnson that day “probably didn’t know he was talking only about England,” Jessica Sargeant, an analyst at the Institute for Government think tank, told EFE.

“That not only caused practical problems for those who did not understand that the averages were not applied to them, but also caused strong rejection in the administrations with transferred powers,” added the expert.

“This has been a very important moment in the history of decentralization. The self-government system is still not well understood in the UK,” Kenny said.

THE ADMINISTRATIONS CLAIM COMPETENCES

One of the recurring complaints among autonomous administrations during the coronavirus crisis has been their lack of power to adapt economic aid to companies and citizens to their own health plans.

This experience will lead to “governments and many citizens of these regions demanding more powers,” says the professor from the University of Cambridge.

In the case of Scotland, “it seems that what has produced is an increase in support for the idea of ​​becoming completely independent from the United Kingdom”, while in Wales there has also been a “surprising advance in support” for the break, he stresses .

The Welsh drift “is truly unexpected, because the arguments for independence there are not as strong. Economically, Wales is dependent in many respects on England and is much more administratively integrated” than Scotland, Kenny added.

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

The difficulties that have come to the fore with the pandemic have led various experts to demand that the Government accelerate its plans to create new coordination mechanisms between administrations.

“The emergence of the coronavirus has exposed problems with the informal constitution of the United Kingdom, among them the lack of clarity on the balance of powers between the central government and the rest of administrations, as well as the lack of homogeneity in decentralization”, Andrew Blick, director of the Department of Economic Policy at King’s College London, told Efe.

In this regard, Michael Gove, Minister of the Cabinet and Johnson’s “number two” in the Conservative Executive, has assured that his intention is to promote a reform of the governance structures to place the relations between London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast on ” a firmer foundation. ”

In 2018, the conservative government of Theresa May launched a process to review the coordination and cooperation mechanisms between administrations.

“A long time has passed, but there has not been much progress,” said Sargeant, who believes that there is an “urgent need to reform the structures that allow various governments to meet and discuss ideas.” EFE

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11/21/09-14/20

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