Boris Johnson offers olive branch to devolved administrations with new leaders’ forum

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Boris Johnson is to chair a new forum for talks with Nicola Sturgeon and the Welsh and Northern Irish first ministers in an attempt to improve strained relations.

The Prime Minister unveiled a three-tier structure for discussions between the UK Government and the three devolved administrations. It replaces the joint ministerial committee, rarely convened by Mr Johnson.

The top tier will see Mr Johnson chair a council attended by the three devolved first ministers. They will discuss issues that affect people across the UK, particularly when they cut across reserved and devolved policy or are of shared responsibility.

The second tier includes two standing committees, one focused on finance and another chaired by Michael Gove, the intergovernmental relations minister.

The third will consist of ministerial groups led by individual government departments covering a wide range of policy issues. This will include regular meetings between devolved and UK government ministers on matters such as health, transport and education.  

The UK Government said the new structure would “create a more equal, transparent and accountable system to support collaboration and information sharing” with the devolved administrations.

‘When Team UK pulls together we will be at our best’

The system was included in a review of intergovernmental relations, published on Thursday, and will be supported by an independent secretariat made up of civil servants seconded from all four governments.

SNP ministers have repeatedly demanded improvements to the procedures for resolving disputes between the UK and Scottish governments, but on Thursday said the new model was a “rebranding of existing structures”.

But Mr Johnson said: “When Team UK pulls together in common cause, spirit and endeavour, we will always be at our very best. We’ve shown time and time again the combined strength we have in facing off the shared challenges before us, while also seizing the opportunities ahead for the benefit of the whole United Kingdom.”

Mr Gove said: “By working together even more effectively, we can better overcome the challenges we face, create greater opportunities and improve people’s lives for the better.”

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, said the new structure “reflects the increased powers of the Scottish Parliament since 2016 and the UK’s vote to leave the EU”.

But John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, said: “This rebranding of existing structures will not deliver the step change in attitude and behaviour from the UK Government that is needed if there is to be a genuine improvement in intergovernmental relations. What is urgently needed is a corresponding change in the substance of engagement.”

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