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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

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Although the Centre is not open to the public due to the Corona crisis, staff members are all available online, and teaching and research activities are ongoing.

News of our many different projects can be found below.

The Centre for British Studies

Blog

In this contribution to the GBZ-Blog, I am trying to combine insights from my current research project with my personal experience in conducting such a project during the Corona pandemic. As part of my habilitation thesis, I was granted a scholarship funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft which I started in September last year. The aim during my one-year research leave is to study the relations between the devolved governments and UK Government and to conduct a series of around 60 interviews with politicians and officials across the UK. For this endeavour, I am based at the University of Stirling in Scotland as an honorary research fellow.

 

Devolution and intergovernmental relations

Unlike in federal states, such as Germany where the relations between the governments of the Länder and the Bund, are strongly institutionalised with the Bundesrat at the heart, intergovernmental arrangements in the UK are only weakly formalised and lack a systematic approach. Since the late 1990s, an increasing number of legislative and fiscal powers have gradually been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales (renamed the Welsh Parliament this May) and the Northern Ireland Assembly. At the same time, however, procedures to structure how these different governments cooperate around policies and laws that affect both the responsibilities of the devolved legislatures and Westminster have been neglected. The sovereignty of the UK Parliament has remained in principle untouched and it still cannot be legally bound by a codified constitution, a constitutional court or by the devolved administrations and legislatures. Therefore, intergovernmental relations rest on the goodwill of the UK Government, which is manifested by a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding, the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) and a series of specific agreements and concordats. Even the Sewel Convention, which requires the legislative consent of the devolved legislatures when a bill by the UK Parliament impacts their powers, can ultimately not stop Westminster from doing so. While the convention is under normal circumstances fairly effective in protecting the devolved administrations’ interests from interference by the UK Government, it depends on the latter to respect the veto of the former. In January, for the first time, all devolved legislators refused to give their consent to the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill. And yet, Westminster passed the bill allowing the UK to leave the EU on 31 January.


Brexit and multilevel politics

This brings us to the peculiarity of Brexit when it comes to governing a unitary, but multi-level state without a robust intergovernmental architecture. The EU has created a quasi-federal constitution integrating the legal frameworks and the interaction across – and within – Member States. While the devolution settlement in Britain conveniently evolved under the EU’s regulatory regime, the decision to leave the EU has posed serious questions about the functionality of the UK’s territorial policy. This is why Brexit has evoked a serious and ongoing intergovernmental conflict, as, in contrast to the UK Government, the elected majorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland prefer a close alignment with the European Single Market. The political relations have been particularly strained by the UK Government’s intentions to exercise control over powers in devolved policy areas, once these are repatriated from the EU. On the other hand, despite these tensions, Brexit has also encouraged unpreceded levels of cooperation between the different governments involved. After all, for future internal and external trade, the UK Government relies on cooperation of the devolved administrations to ensure the implementation of common standards. Consequently (and also to prepare for a no-deal Brexit), beyond the existing, often ineffective arrangements, first and forest the Joint Ministerial Committee, the existing web of ministerial and official forums, working groups and ad hoc relations has expanded under the public radar.

 

Researching intergovernmental relations in time of Brexit and Corona

Because, prior to the EU Referendum, intergovernmental cooperation was very restricted, my research has become significantly more interesting in these turbulent times. Because of the informal character of these interactions, only an in-depth qualitative study can lead to a better understanding of the different institutions and practices, of the nature of cooperation and conflict, and of the influence of the devolved administration on policies and legislation enacted by the UK Government. Although major developments are unlikely to be concluded at the time I am hoping to finalise my thesis, my scholarship has allowed me to gather extremely valuable insights from governments with profoundly different perspectives. Unfortunately, and I am certainly not the only one who’s research is affected by the current pandemic, I had to return from London earlier than planned and could not meet all my interviewees in person. Since then, however, I have made considerable progress in analysing and writing up my findings so far. I had already travelled to Edinburgh, to Cardiff and to London, but have only been able to do about two-thirds of the interviews I had planned. It is, of course, possible to talk to people over the phone or via an online call, and I have occasionally done so. Still, part of gaining a better understanding of what is actually happening, is seeing the places where people work, and the action is taking place. According to my initial schedule, I had arranged to visit Belfast in June. At the moment, there seems to be at least a glimpse of hope that this might be possible. Meanwhile, until travelling to the UK becomes an option again, the data I had already collected will keep me busy in the coming weeks and months.

 

Marius Guderjan, Centre for British Studies

 

You can read Marius' detailled analysis of the current state of devolution in the UK here:

The (dis-)intergration of intergovernmental relations

 

New Publications

Wednesday, 25th March 2020

Contested Britain 
Brexit, Austerity and Agency

Edited by Marius Guderjan, Hugh Mackay and Gesa Stedman
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Friday, 14th February 2020

Imagined Economies – Real Fictions:
New Perspectives on Economic Thinking in Great Britain

Jessica Fischer / Gesa Stedman (eds.)
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Public Events at the Centre for British Studies

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The Centre for British Studies is an interdisciplinary research institute at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The institute, the first of its kind in Germany, conducts comprehensive research and offers teaching, lectures and conferences on a broad interdisciplinary agenda focusing on the United Kingdom.

Our interdisciplinary research projects, PhD projects, research colloquia, working papers, as well as lists of publications by the Centre’s staff, can be found on this website.

The Centre teaches the international, interdisciplinary and practice oriented M.A. British Studies course. Students from all over the world and with different academic backgrounds study British history, culture and literature, as well as law, politics, business and economics. Detailed information about the programme can be accessed under M.A. British Studies.

With its series of conferences on topical aspects of society, the Centre for British Studies intends to encourage debates on current issues concerning both Britain and Germany. The Centre also organises public lectures and panel discussions, such as the popular "Monday Lectures". Listings of current and future lectures can be found below and under Events. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Our current Annual Report provides information on the various activities we pursued, the courses offered, the respective students, our research activities, news and events of the previous year.