On 19 January 2019 we, as Chairs, Conveners and representatives of Committees scrutinising Brexit-related issues in the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, House of Commons and House of Lords, met at the House of Lords for the sixth meeting of the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit. Officials from the Northern Ireland Assembly were in attendance as observers, and the meeting was chaired by the Senior Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord McFall of Alcluith.
This was a timely meeting, given events of recent days, including the heavy defeat of the Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons on 15 January, and the Prime Minister’s announcement that she would seek cross-party talks on next steps.
Following the fifth meeting of the Forum, in Cardiff on 25 October 2018, we wrote to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rt Hon David Lidington MP, to draw his attention, in the context of the Government’s review of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) structures and Memorandum of Understanding, to key recommendations made by our various committees, and our shared belief that the current system of inter-governmental relations is not fit for purpose and is in urgent need of substantial reform.
Today we received a reply from Mr Lidington, and also met Chloe Smith MP, Minister for the Constitution within the Cabinet Office, who reported on the progress of the Government’s review of the JMC structures. In response to questions, she indicated that it was for the four parliaments to bring forward proposals for a future structure for interparliamentary dialogue and scrutiny of intergovernmental relations post-Brexit, and that if they did so, the Government would be supportive. Members of the Forum also expressed concern over key issues, including the handling of areas of shared competence, the ambiguity of the Sewel Convention, and the mechanisms for intra-UK dispute resolution.
Given the current political uncertainty, we underline the continuing value of the Forum as an informal mechanism to enable parliamentarians from around the UK to come together and share thoughts and perspectives. But we reiterate that at some point, consideration of more formal interparliamentary structures will be needed.
The Forum will meet again in Edinburgh in April 2019.
The House of Lords European Union Committee, in its report on Brexit: devolution, recommended that the structures for interparliamentary dialogue within the United Kingdom should be strengthened, to support more effective scrutiny of the Government's handling of Brexit. This led to the formation of the Interparliamentary Forum on Brexit, comprising the Chairs and Convenors of Committees scrutinising Brexit-related issues in the House of Commons, House of Lords, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales and, as and when the power-sharing institutions are restored, the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Forum held its first meeting in October 2017.
This sixth meeting was hosted by the House of Lords and chaired by the Lord McFall of Alcuith, Senior Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Liaison Committee. The European Union Committee was represented by Lord Boswell of Aynho.