Scotland’s Brexit minister: ‘Serious and significant’ changes to devolution plans needed
Westminster needs to make “serious and significant” changes to post-EU devolution plans to win MSPs’ support for a crucial bill, Scotland’s Brexit minister has warned.
Michael Russell’s comments come as he and Deputy First Minister John Swinney failed to break the impasse with Damian Green over disagreements on the EU Withdrawal Bill during talks in Edinburgh yesterday.
Holyrood ministers have argued that UK plans to take powers from Brussels over agriculture, fishing and the environment to London amount to a “power grab”, given control over most of those areas is currently devolved.
Mr Russell added that, while the Scottish Government accepts it lacks the power to block Brexit, any attempt to override Scottish parliament consent would be a “direct threat to devolution”.
“We remain absolutely clear that, as things stand, we will not recommend to the Scottish parliament that it gives its consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill,” he said.
“The bill as currently drafted is impractical and unworkable. It is a blatant power grab which would take existing competence over a wide range of devolved policy areas, including aspects of things like agriculture and fishing, away from Holyrood, giving them instead to Westminster and Whitehall.
“Unless there are serious and significant changes to the proposed legislation, the strong likelihood is that the Scottish parliament will vote against the repeal bill.
“We have never claimed to have a veto over EU withdrawal.
“But UK ministers should be in no doubt – to override a vote of the Scottish Parliament and impose the Withdrawal Bill on Scotland would be an extraordinary and unprecedented step.
“The current proposals are a direct threat to the devolution settlement which the people of Scotland overwhelmingly voted for in 1997.
“We are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas – but this must be on the basis of agreement among equals, not imposed by Westminster.”
'OPPOSITE OF THE INTENTION'
Cabinet Office minister Mr Green insisted the British Government was committed to granting further powers and that ministers would try to convince their counterparts north of the border they had “absolutely the opposite of the intention of a power grab”.
“Obviously there are issues on which the UK government and the Scottish government place a different emphasis,” he said.
“But we agreed that we need to work first of all on the principles.
“We agree that we want to give more powers at the end of this process to the Scottish government and the Scottish parliament and we agree that keeping free trade within the UK to enhance the prosperity in Scotland and the rest of the UK has to be a really important outcome of Brexit.”
Asked about the “power grab” claims, Mr Green said: “I hope as these talks go on we will be able to convince them that there is absolutely the opposite of the intention of a power grab.
“We want more powers to come to the devolved administrations. That has to be done in the context of keeping free trade within the United Kingdom, but we've agreed more talks in a few weeks' time.”