Devolved nations must have a seat at trade talks, MPs told

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Ministers in Edinburgh and Cardiff must be included in negotiations on post-Brexit trade deals to avoid a breakdown in devolution, experts have told MPs.

The Westminster Committee on Exiting the European Union was also told that legislation to enact Brexit has little detail on how devolved administrations will gain new powers after Brexit.

Talks between the UK government and devolved administrations are deadlocked amid claims that the Repeal Bill will result in a Westminster ‘power grab’ in areas where powers return from Brussels after Brexit.

UK ministers want agreement on joint frameworks to govern aspects of devolved responsibility, and insist as much authority as possible will eventually be passed on to Edinburgh and Cardiff after Brexit.

Laura Dunlop QC, the convenor of the Faculty of Advocates’ Law Reform Committee, said trade negotiations with the EU, WTO, and third countries like the United States would need the “full participation” of devolved nations in order to respect devolution.

“[There] will need to be international negotiations on particular areas and [these] will cover a number of areas which are presently dealt with by the European Union,” Ms Dunlop told MPs.

“It seems to me that one obvious solution is to have full participation by the other three [nations] in the negotiations and then the positions can be agreed with full participation by all the devolved bodies.”

Dr Kamala Dawar of the UK Trade Policy Observatory warned of a “terrible, terrible situation” if there wasn’t UK-wide agreement on areas like agriculture subsidies, and said devolved administrations should get a seat at the table in trade talks to avoid a clash.

“I think it would be a terrible thing for the UK economy if we had subsidies flying around in the different regions that weren’t coordinated, if we had some strange sort of bi-national policies that weren’t coordinated and then the UK Government was trying to negotiate international agreements on these very topics.

“Of course I think this would be a terrible, terrible situation, which is why you have to give reassurance to the devolved nations that they have some say at this table.”