Common frameworks: FAQ

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Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about common frameworks.

What is a common framework?

A common framework is an agreed approach to a particular policy, including the implementation and governance of it.

What do common frameworks do?

Common frameworks help to make sure that there is some degree of consistency in policy and practice.

Why are common frameworks being developed in the UK?

In many policy areas, EU laws have ensured that there is a consistent approach across the UK, even where these policy areas are devolved.  This is because the UK and all of its governments have had to comply with EU law. In effect, this compliance has meant that the same policy has been followed.

After the UK leaves the EU (31 January 2020) and the transition period ends (31 December 2020), there is a possibility of policy divergence because different nations within the UK will no longer need to comply with EU law.

Common frameworks can be developed so that rules and regulations in certain areas remain the same, or at least similar, across the UK.

What policy areas may require common frameworks?

The UK Government’s Cabinet Office has published its framework analysis. This sets out the policy areas where EU law intersects with devolved competence in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is in these policy area that common frameworks may be developed.

The framework analysis also indicates the UK government’s provisional assessment of where it will be important to maintain common practices and therefore have common frameworks after the UK leaves the EU.

Will all common frameworks be the same?

No, it is anticipated that there will be two categories of common frameworks: legislative and non-legislative.

Legislative common frameworks will be introduced where a common UK approach is deemed to be crucial. They could be introduced by primary legislation (an Act of Parliament); secondary legislation or a combination of primary and secondary legislation.

Non-legislative frameworks will likely be used where some uniformity, but not complete compliance, is beneficial. In these instances Ministers from the UK and devolved administrations will work together to agree a framework, but the framework will not be set in statute (law). It is anticipated that these common frameworks will be implemented through, for example, memorandums or understanding or by the exchange of letters.

Who decides on what common frameworks are needed?

The Joint Ministerial Committee (EU negotiations) known as the JMC (EN) brings together the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern.

The JMC (EN) is chaired by the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. It gives Ministers from across the UK the opportunity to discuss matters arising from the UK leaving the EU. The JMC (EN) is the forum through which the UK and devolved governments discuss many of the overarching issues relating to common frameworks. It is the UK Government Cabinet Office which is leading the day-to-day work on common frameworks.

Through the JMC (EN), the UK and devolved governments have worked together to agree a definition and a set of principles for common frameworks.

What are the principles guiding the development of common frameworks?

The principles agreed by the JMC (EU) are being used to guide the approach to common frameworks. The principles set out six scenarios in which common frameworks may be needed:

  • to enable the functioning of the UK internal market
  • to ensure compliance with international obligations
  • to ensure the UK can negotiate, enter into and implement new trade agreements and international treaties
  • to enable the management of common resources
  • to administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element
  • to safeguard the security of the UK.

How will common frameworks be developed?

The UK Government and the devolved administrations have said that they will work together to develop common frameworks. The UK Government committing to respecting the devolution settlements in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The UK Government Cabinet Office is coordinating the work on developing common frameworks. The Cabinet Office has set out five stages that each common framework will go through as it is developed.

  1. The first phase brings together the UK Government and devolved administrations to engage in initial discussions on how the common framework should proceed.
  2. The second stage is detailed policy development,
  3. There is then a period of review, consultation and further policy development.
  4. The framework is agreed and implemented at stage 4.
  5. The final phase deals with post-implementation arrangements for the framework. There is the opportunity for review during stages four (agreement and implementation) and five (post-implementation arrangements).

How will common frameworks operate in line with existing devolution settlements

The JMC (EN) indicated their agreement that common frameworks should recognise the existing devolution powers in the UK and should not lead to any reduction in the decision-making powers currently available to the devolved administrations.

The agreement allowed the devolved administrations to have some flexibility in implementing the devolved policy areas that are returning from the EU – meaning they could be tailored to meet the specific needs of each nation.

The Governments also agreed that any changes required at UK level in areas of policy currently devolved, would not be made without the consent of the devolved legislatures.

Will the Scottish Parliament have a role to play in scrutinising common frameworks?

In March 2019, the Finance and Constitution Committee published a report on common frameworks.  The report concluded that the Scottish Parliament has an important role in examining common frameworks as they are being developed, agreed and implemented.

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have therefore worked together to produce a protocol for the sharing of information on common frameworks.

The committees of the Scottish Parliament will lead on common frameworks in their policy area. The Finance and Constitution Committee has a role in considering the wider implications of common frameworks and the constitutional impact of them.