Published on 13 November 2018
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Greater respect and far-reaching reform needed in intergovernmental relations

Experts from the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge have called for far-reaching reforms to the UK’s system of intergovernmental relations (IGR).

The report, Reforming Intergovernmental Relations in the United Kingdom, provides the framework for a new system of intergovernmental machinery built around principles of respect, transparency and accountability.

The report’s authors, Prof Nicola McEwen and Dr Coree Brown Swan (Edinburgh) and Prof Michael Kenny and Jack Sheldon (Cambridge) drew on the experience of other countries to identify options for the UK. By doing so, they were able to address many of the challenges faced by the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Governments in communicating with each other. The report also suggests means of addressing the asymmetry caused by England lacking institutional representation.

The authors argue that Brexit has exposed the weaknesses in the UK’s system of IGR, and added urgency to the need for major reform.

Prof Nicola McEwen said:

“Almost twenty years into the UK’s devolution journey, the processes by which its governments communicate are in urgent need of reform. The proposed creation of UK-wide frameworks to manage some of those powers returning from Brussels has highlighted the pressing need for major reforms.  We have sought to learn from the combined experience of other countries to recommend a series of reforms that can build a framework of IGR that can help all of the UK’s governments to cooperate more effectively, and with more trust in each other, when confronting shared problems.”

Prof Michael Kenny said:

“Mutual respect is at the heart of these recommendations. The sovereignty of Westminster needs to be respected but so does the autonomy of the devolved institutions. One thing that was striking when we examined the experience of other countries was the extent to which discussions were conducted – and disputes were resolved – with an understanding that all those involved had something to offer and faced their own pressures. Brexit has put further strains on a system that was already creaking at the seams but it could also act as a catalyst to rebuild trust in a spirit of shared self-interest.”

The full report including recommendations is available at:

The summary of conclusions and recommendations is available at:

The authors are:

  • Nicola McEwen is Professor of Territorial Politics at the University of Edinburgh and Co-Director of the Centre on Constitutional Change
  • Michael Kenny is Professor of Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy
  • Coree Brown Swan is a Research Fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change
  • Jack Sheldon is a Research Assistant at the Bennett Institute for Public Policy

This research is part of a collaborative project, Between Two Unions: The constitutional challenge in the UK and Ireland after Brexit. The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the ESRC.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Bennett Institute for Public Policy.

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