Common frameworks: completing the constitutional puzzle?


The UK and decentralized governments have been negotiating common frameworks to deal with legal and policy differences outside the EU since 2017. Common frameworks are usually agreements defining how governments will work together and make decisions about future ones. laws and policies.

The Advocate General Mick Antoniw MS has now told the Senedd that the last sticking points in these negotiations have been resolved, so that most of the common frameworks will soon be presented for consideration in the four UK legislatures.

Why do governments negotiate common frameworks?

Now that the Brexit transition period is over, the UK and decentralized governments can take different approaches in policy areas previously governed or coordinated at EU level, such as food safety and air quality. .

In 2017, governments decided they wanted to deal with differences in some of these policy areas – for example, to reduce the risk that unintentional barriers to trade could develop or to allow the UK to negotiate international agreements. To do this, they decided to set up “common frameworks” in certain policy areas according to a set of six criteria.

UK and decentralized governments have plans to 26 common frameworks in the areas devolved to Wales. Initially, they wanted all frameworks to be finalized by the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020. However, the program was delayed as governments were still negotiating on key issues on their functioning. So far, only eight provisional common frameworks in areas vested in Wales have been published.

In November, the Advocate General told Senedd that governments had reached agreement on outstanding issues in the negotiations. He said governments would publish most provisional frames this month, including updating those already published. The four British legislatures will be able to scrutinize the provisional frameworks before they are finalized.

How could executives change what the Senedd and Welsh government can do?

When the governments have agreed to develop common frameworks, they said they could consist of:

… Common objectives, minimum or maximum standards, harmonization, limits of action or mutual recognition, depending on the policy area and the objectives pursued.

The UK government has issued a series of analyzes determine when frameworks need to be established.

Common frameworks are usually presented as non-legislative agreements between the four governments, indicating how they will work together and decide when to follow the same rules and when to diverge. Legislation in a common framework area can also help create a common approach, for example by giving ministers competing or equivalent powers, forcing governments to work together, or setting common goals.

For example, when the UK was part of the EU, the European Commission was responsible for authorizing new nutritional and health claims (like saying a product is low in fat). The UK government has passed regulations under the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 to transfer this power to Welsh ministers or to UK ministers with their consent. The provisional nutritional framework states that requests for new claims must be reviewed by a panel of officials from all governments. Officials will consider whether governments should take the same or different approaches and submit a recommendation to ministers. If ministers cannot agree on an approach, a dispute resolution process is invoked. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it will go through the dispute resolution process defined in the devolution memorandum of understanding. This process is currently in the study.

As the common frameworks require governments to discuss and agree on approaches, they can be a practical constraint on how the Senedd and Welsh government can exercise its competence. This means that it is important for Senedd and stakeholders to understand how common frameworks work in practice. In the fifth Sendd, the The Welsh government is committed to report annually on the common frameworks program and to inform Senedd when legislation relates to a common framework. The The Advocate General also confirmed in November that governments had all committed to reporting on frameworks in the future.

How will the Common Frameworks interact with the UK Internal Market Act 2020?

The governments agreed in 2017 that common frameworks be established where necessary to ensure the functioning of the UK internal market, in order to prevent the development of unintentional barriers to trade between different parts of the UK.

However, the UK government feared that common frameworks were not enough to do this. In December 2020, the British Parliament adopted the UK Home Market Act. This establishes new principles of market access in law. These principles aim to ensure that goods, services and professional qualifications sold or recognized in one part of the UK can be sold or recognized in another part.

The principles of market access could limit the effect of changes to the law in Wales, even if such changes are agreed within a common framework. For example, the provisional food composition standards and labeling framework provides for governments to discuss when to follow the same rules and when to differ on food labeling law. Food labeling legislation is likely to come within the scope of the principle of mutual recognition of goods. So governments could agree to establish different food labeling standards in Wales across the framework. However, the principle of mutual recognition would mean that food products authorized or imported into a country could still be sold in Wales, although Welsh food producers would still have to comply with labeling standards set by the Welsh government.

The law allows the UK government to create exclusions from market access principles to give effect to an agreement reached through a common framework – but it is not obligated to do so. The The attorney general said that governments have now agreed to a process for how these exclusions should be agreed upon. It is not yet clear what this process will involve.

How will the common frameworks take into account international obligations?

The governments also agreed in 2017 that common frameworks should be established to ensure compliance with international obligations and enable the UK to negotiate new international trade agreements.

Now that the UK has left the EU, the UK government is tasked with negotiating international agreements in areas where the EU previously did on its behalf. Deconcentrated governments are responsible for implement the UK’s international obligations in devolved areas.

There are common frameworks that define how governments can work together on the UK’s international obligations. For example, the provisional nutritional framework says governments need to consult and educate themselves on their implementation.

The framework says the UK Department of Health and Social Affairs will be responsible for formulating foreign policy on nutrition, but will fully involve decentralized administrations and seek to agree a position “to the extent possible”. This text is marked as not yet agreed.

In November 2021, the The Advocate General confirmed that governments had reached agreement on how the common frameworks should interact with “international relations and the Northern Ireland Protocol”.

Next steps

The Senedd will examine common frameworks during the spring term. In the meantime, you can learn more about common frameworks by read our briefing on the provisional food and feed safety and hygiene framework and navigation review by the committee of common frameworks in the fifth Senedd.

More information

Article by Lucy Valsamidis, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament


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