Devolved pandemic management – “Take Back Control”

St George flag, Union Jack flag and the Saltire flag

I finished my post earlier today with the following paragraph :

I would argue that although many of the powers that relate to the management of the coronavirus were devolved to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland over 20 years ago, this issue is so important that there should be emergency legislation passed  to define “the management of a pandemic” as a  “reserved power” of the United Kingdom Government at Westminster.  

There have been important distinctions in the way different parts of the UK work  for a long time, eg the separate education and legal systems in Scotland. In 1997, the transfer of some powers from central to regional government entered a new phase, with referendums held in Scotland and Wales, and both parts of Ireland following in 1998.

These resulted in the creation of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly as devolved governments.

Which powers are devolved?

The table below gives an overview of the main powers given to the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies, and the Scottish Parliament. The UK government’s proposals for the devolution of further powers to each constituent nation are discussed further below.

ScotlandWalesNorthern Ireland
Agriculture, Crown Estate, forestry and fishingAgriculture, forestry and fishingAgriculture
Education and training *Education *Education *
Environment *Environment*Environment and planning*
Health and social work *Health and social welfare *Health and social services*
HousingHousingEnterprise, trade and investment *
Justice, policing and courts*Local government*Local government*
Local government*Fire and rescue servicesJustice and policing*
Fire serviceEconomic development*Control over air passenger duty and corporation tax (from 2017)
Economic development and tourism*Highways and transport*Transport*
Internal transport*Control over stamp duty and landfill taxPensions and child support
The ability to change and top up benefits such as Universal Credit, Tax Credits and Child BenefitWelsh languageCulture and sport*
Limited power over local taxes, the basic rate of tax and landfill tax
Right to receive half of the VAT raised in Scotland

* Scotland has always had its own legal system

SOURCE: HM Government – Devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

  • Pandemic Management related

Which powers are not devolved?

The UK government, led by the prime minister in Downing Street, is responsible for national policy on all powers which have not been devolved – known usually as “reserved powers”.

The main areas which are reserved to Westminster are:

  • The constitution
  • Defence and national security
  • Foreign policy
  • Immigration and citizenship
  • Tax policy (income tax rates devolved in Scotland)
  • Pandemic Management related

Click for full devolution article

When the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson hurriedly announced a three week lockdown period on March 23rd starting the following day, I don’t remember him saying this was for England only. The central message “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save lives” was certainly the same for all four nations, as was the requirement for 1.5 million vulnerable people to “shield themselves for 12 weeks at home. This has now been extended to June 30th.

On March 25th,the Emergency Coronavirus Act was passed which grants police, immigration officers and public health officials  with new unprecedented powers to detain “potentially infectious persons” and put them in isolation facilities. This Act applies to the whole of the UK .

On 16th April, Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced at the daily Downing Street press conference that the coronavirus lockdown measures will remain in place “for at least the next three weeks”.

On 22nd April, the government made  a number of changes to the lockdown regulations in England without warning. The key change is that it is no longer unlawful to only leave the place you’re living without a reasonable excuse – but to be outside of your place of residence at all without a reasonable excuse.

On 27th April, Boris Johnson returned to Downing Street to take charge of the UK’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

On 7th May, following Government briefings, the majority of newspaper headlines focus on the possibility of lockdown measures being eased from Monday 11 May.

It was during this week that the First Ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland started talking about retaining the original message of “Stay Home”  etc rather than “Stay Alert” which was being trailed as the new English message.

Click for full article source


As nearly all devolved powers to the nations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland touch on the overall management of the pandemic, together with all the reserved powers of the UK Government in Westminster, it seems obvious to me that the UK Government should take responsibility for the overall management strategy of this pandemic, and any future pandemics.

According to the Wikipedia section below, the devolved powers of the subnational authority continue to reside with central government :

Devolution differs from federalism in that the devolved powers of the subnational authority ultimately reside in central government, thus the state remains, de jure, a unitary stateLegislation creating devolved parliaments or assemblies can be repealed or amended by central government in the same way as any statute.”

I believe emergency legislation should be passed by the UK Government that pandemic management should be one of their “reserved powers”. If this is not possible, perhaps the definition above enables the UK Government to simply take back authority from the devolved governments to fully “take back control” of pandemic management., rather than the current divergence of policy by the four nations of the UK.

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