Ruth Davidson calls for post-Brexit ‘union unit’ in Whitehall

The UK government needs a ‘Union delivery unit’ at its heart to ensure decision-making benefits all parts of the country, Ruth Davidson has said.

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin

In an article setting out her ‘manifesto for post-Brexit Britain’, the Scottish Tory leader warned that leaving the EU meant that devolution settlement had been “stretched and tested” and needs to be updated.

Her comments follow a cross-party appeal by Unionist MPs in Scotland on Sunday for constitutional reform to ensure the UK survives the pressures of Brexit, including the creation of a Department for the Union alongside the Great Offices of State.

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“As a post-Brexit UK seeks to re-establish its position in the world, it cannot do so merely as a little England,” Ms Davidson wrote for the UnHerd website.

“We need a new union delivery unit at the heart of government – ensuring that UK legislation is devolution compatible, that businesses from across the home nations are involved in helping draw up trade policy and invited on trade missions, and that civil servants and ministers have a genuine understanding of how power is shared and policy delivered.

“With a raft of powers being repatriated from Brussels, and whole industries, such as agriculture or fisheries, being supported and regulated from home, ensuring that the distinct needs of Britain’s nations and regions are met will be a huge test for the UK government.

“It’s one it must pass if it wants citizens on board in post-Brexit Britain.”

Conservative MP Stephen Kerr, who joined Scottish colleagues from Labour and the Liberal Democrats in calling for a Department of the Union, welcomed Ms Davidson’s suggestion would improve governance of the UK and “should be welcomed by everyone”.

“I would very much see this proposal as the start of a process that led to the creation of a new Office of State such as a Department for the Union with a First Secretary,” Mr Kerr said.

Meanwhile, a Westminster Hall debate on the post-Brexit future of European investment funds heard appeals from Scottish Conservative MPs for investment money not to be subject to the Barnett Formula.

East Renfrewshire Tory Paul Masterton said investment funds should not be used to “fill black holes” in the Scottish Government’s budget after Brexit.

However, following a question from Mr Kerr, local government minister Jake Berry said a decision on the Barnett Formula would not be made until after a consultation on the planned UK Shared Prosperity Fund, which is already more than five months overdue.

SNP MP Drew Hendry said re-routing money away from the Scottish Government, which currently administers EU funds worth £800m over seven years in Scotland, would “re-write the devolution settlement” and amount to a “power grab”.