Westminster's 'complacency' has left Union on the brink, says Cambridge University study


'Union on the Brink' (Image: Gwalia)

A new study carried out at the University of Cambridge argues that Whitehall and successive UK governments' failure to adapt to the new realities of devolution has put the United Kingdom's existence in peril


In a paper published by The Constitution Society, researchers from the Bennett Institute for Public Policy contend that "central government has often been complacent and un-strategic", leading to pressures on the Union.


The authors argue that central government's complacency during the first decade of devolution has left it "unprepared" to handle the "challenges" posed by the maturing devolved governments from 2011 onward.


The authors, Michael Kenny, Philip Rycroft, and Jack Sheldon contend that the UK government must take immediate and constructive action to improve its relationships with Cymru, Scotland, and Northern Ireland or else risk further breakdown.


The UK government must adopt a more engaging attitude toward the devolved governments when it comes to policy-making, the paper says.


The situation has been exacerbated by "high levels of ignorance and misunderstanding about devolved politics" within Whitehall.


With this in mind, the authors argue that civil servants should be 'encouraged' and 'incentivised' to spend their time learning about how the devolved governments operate.


The paper also points to the impact that Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic has had on the Union, arguing that the "inadequacy" of Westminster's "ad hoc" and "reactive approach" to handling relations with the devolved governments since the 1990s has eroded trust between the governments.

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