Durham University professor of Law and Government asks does English devolution open a Pandora’s Box?

Professor of Law and Government at Durham University Thom Brooks asks what should devolution for England look like?

A man waving a Saltire flag at sunrise in Edinburgh
A man waving a Saltire flag at sunrise in Edinburgh

Scotland rejected independence and this is good news for our region’s economy.

But while one threat is defeated, another emerges in its wake.

The Prime Minister announced support for ‘English votes for English laws’ shortly after Scotland’s referendum.

It’s easy to see why.

Why should non-English MPs have a say on laws that affect England alone? English MPs can’t vote on devolved matters to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

English Devolution could provide a fair deal that many others in the UK already enjoy.

The lack of devolution in England has already had important consequences.

The vote on tuition fees for England passed only with the support of non-English MPs, for example.

The government knows that English devolution commands strong public support.

But don’t expect to hear calls for a new English Parliament or regional assemblies.

Such plans have been shelved since the North East emphatically rejected its assembly at the polls nearly 10 years ago.

This leads us to an important question: so what should devolution for England look like?The Tory’s John Redwood MP has an answer.

He argues we need neither new buildings nor extra politicians.

Instead, all MPs should vote on matters affecting the UK as a whole, but only English MPs should have a vote on laws that affect England alone.

Devolution for England is as simple as that.

Not everyone agrees.

Labour’s Ed Miliband has received heavy criticism for not jumping on this evolving bandwagon.

But the problem is not his caution, but the Tory’s drive for instant constitutional change without proper assessment of potential long term damage in future.

It’s depressing to think that after convincing Scotland to remain part of a United Kingdom, this union could be forever damaged by political bungling for partisan advantage.

This is the kind of Westminster politics the public will continue to reject.

English devolution opens a genuine Pandora’s Box. Serious questions need convincing answers.

Should some MPs have more rights than others? Should English MPs receive a higher salary for performing greater work? How serious is the risk a general election could justify a majority for British votes, but not English-only votes?

Must all future Prime Ministers be English MPs because otherwise he or she would lack the same rights as other MPs to debate and vote on the same issues in Parliament?

Devolution also raises important issues affecting the North East.

England represents a much larger population - about 85% of the United Kingdom – than other areas of the country.

The needs of the North East can differ from those of London or the South East.

The dangers of getting devolution wrong is that a one size fits all model might work against the interests of England’s regional hubs.

‘English votes for English laws’ is a fine slogan and it’s often referred to by its abbreviations: EVEL.

Devolution may open a Pandora’s Box, but it’s a moment whose time has come and rightly so.

Labour argues we should look to devolving powers to regions instead of England as a whole.

They have been accused of being self-serving.

But this is nonsense. After all, it is the government that claims support for localism. So why only localism when it suits its interests?

Devolution is important and long overdue.

But we need to make it work for us and the diverse needs of England’s regions, such as the North East.

Let’s be open-minded about our options within a strict timetable. Long term constitutional change must be immune from short term political games with potentially damaging consequences. Caution is not sitting on the fence, but being sensible about the future of the country and our region.

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