The structures and functioning of UK government, Parliament and politics have been called into question following the 2016 referendum result, says a new report by the Institute for Government.
Published on the day that the UK was originally scheduled to leave the European Union, The Brexit Effect: How government has changed since the EU referendum assesses the impact on six areas that have been particularly affected: ministers, the civil service, public bodies, money, devolution, and Parliament.
The report finds that:
- Brexit has put the civil service under unprecedented pressure
Staff numbers have increased dramatically, but existing work has had to be put on hold to cope with Brexit. Key departments such as Defra and the Home Office are bigger now than they have been at any point in the last decade.
- The Brexit process has seen the Prime Minister’s authority disappear
More ministers have already resigned from Theresa May’s Government in 2019 than any other recent Prime Minister lost in a full year. Even more striking is the extent to which the Prime Minister has been forced to tolerate dissent without removing ministers.
- Parliamentarians are more assertive and willing to stand up to the Government
MPs have banded together, finding innovative ways to wrest control of the Brexit process while traditional party discipline has buckled. The Government’s fragile parliamentary position has seen more Commons votes decided by a margin of less than 1% in this session than in the previous ten years.
- The devolution settlement is under threat
The devolved administrations have felt side-lined for much of the Brexit process, exposing fundamental problems with the 20-year-old settlement. Crucial outstanding decisions on how to reallocate EU powers and funding could raise tensions further.
- Any post-Brexit boost to the public finances will probably be outweighed by the economic impact of leaving the EU
Brexit could benefit the public finances in future years as the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget comes to an end and the financial settlement payments agreed under the Withdrawal Agreement reduce but these changes are likely to pale in comparison to the economic impact of leaving.
- The structures of government could be permanently reshaped by Brexit
The uncertainties of the Brexit process mean there are no guarantees that major government departments will continue to exist; there are questions about the future role of the Home Office, DIT and DExEU. The wider landscape of government is also changing, with three new arm’s length bodies guaranteed and many more expanding in a reversal of the Coalition’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’.
Bronwen Maddox, Director at the Institute for Government, said:
“Brexit will have an enduring effect on our government, no whatever the outcome. It has fundamentally changed the shape of the civil service, the functioning of parliament and how government operates. Thirty-three months since the EU referendum, the Brexit effect on government is considerable and far from over.”
Lewis Lloyd, author of the report, said:
“Implementing the result of the 2016 EU referendum has set an unprecedented test for the UK Government - one that it has yet to pass. Brexit has challenged the status quo, upending conventions and inviting us to rethink how government, and politics more broadly, work in the UK.”