Friday 6 December 2019

David Cameron expected to announce reform plans in wake of Scottish vote

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech in Aberdeen, appealing to Scots' emotions by warning them that a vote to leave the UK would be irreversible. Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech in Aberdeen, appealing to Scots' emotions by warning them that a vote to leave the UK would be irreversible. Photo: REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Andrew Woodcock and David Hughes

David Cameron is set to announce plans to "protect and enhance" the interests of English voters, as more powers are handed over to Scotland in the wake of its rejection of independence.

Close Cameron ally Michael Gove indicated that the package, expected to be outlined in a live TV address by the Prime Minister this morning, could involve reforms to ensure only English MPs can vote on English issues at Westminster.

Following his promise - made jointly with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg - of further devolution to the Scottish Parliament in the case of a No vote, Mr Cameron has come under intense pressure from English MPs concerned that their constituents are being sidelined.

Conservative former Cabinet minister Liam Fox said change was "unavoidable" to address the ability of Scottish MPs to vote on devolved issues in Westminster, while Labour's John Denham called for devolution within England.

Downing Street sources told The Sun that Mr Cameron would be "on the front foot" in a statement due to be delivered after declaration of the final results in Scotland, which would set out a plan to "rebalance" the way all four nations of the UK are represented.

Mr Gove said the Prime Minister was "anxious to ensure that, after this referendum campaign, we can bring the United Kingdom together".

Mr Cameron's statement would recognise "that Scotland needs enhanced devolution... (and that) it's also important to recognise that the rest of the United Kingdom needs to have its position enhanced as well, in Northern Ireland, in Wales and of course in England", said the Conservative Chief Whip.

He added: "We need to look again at the arrangements which look after the people who live in the majority of the United Kingdom and I think the Prime Minister in particular will be spelling out some ways forward which will allow Westminster to change how it operates in order to ensure that the interests of English voters are effectively protected - indeed enhanced."

Dr Fox said the cross-party vow to give more powers to Holyrood created an "imbalance in our constitutional relationship".

He told BBC2's Newsnight: "There are a number of ways that we can address that but I think now it will have to be addressed. Politicians have ducked the question for too long."

The Scot added: "What we must ensure is that Scottish MPs, who cannot vote on issues like health and education in Scotland, should not be entitled to vote on health and education in constituencies like mine in North Somerset.

"It is profoundly undemocratic and unfair. That needs to be dealt with."

Mr Denham told the programme: "First you've got to have a constitutional convention in England. Secondly, we are going to have change in Westminster. It's clear that the more powers that go to the Scottish Parliament, the less you can have Scottish MPs voting on the same issues for England. That's got to change in one way or another.

"Thirdly, though, England is much too centralised. So this isn't just about reducing the influence of Scottish MPs in Westminster, it's about getting English decisions out of Westminster."

The chairman of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen, said: "If we really believe in devolution, the leaders' 'vow' should apply to all nations in the union, not just Scotland.

"Devolution needs independent local government, income tax assignment and a federal parliament, not an English one."

And Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole Andrew Percy said: "England must have an English parliament in the event of a No vote. Time for a federal UK.

"We can have an English parliament at Westminster as well as the British seat. England must be heard as much as Scotland."

Meanwhile, regional newspapers in northern England united to launch a campaign for greater powers to tackle an "uneven playing field" in the UK.

In a display of unity, northern titles including The Journal, Chronicle, Northern Echo, Gazette, Yorkshire Post and Manchester Evening News carried the same front-page message calling for the North to be given "far more control over its own affairs".

"The North of England is already competing on an uneven playing field, squeezed by an economically-strong London to the south and Scotland to the north," said the message.

"We know that we have what it takes to succeed if we're given the tools to do the job, creating jobs in the North - and boosting the economy of UK plc."

Journal editor Brian Aitken said: "The unprecedented coming together of the great northern newspaper brands should send a clear message to our politicians that it is vital they make sure the North does not suffer from having an economic powerhouse to the south and a far more competitive Scotland to the north."

Peter Barron, editor of the Northern Echo, said the north of England must not be "overshadowed or neglected", while Yorkshire Post editor Jeremy Clifford said: "We are joining with newspaper titles across the North to ensure this vitally important part of England does not lose out in the aftermath of the Scotland decision."

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