Top academic: Tories plan to ‘cut through’ devolution settlement for more Westminster power


Warnings grow that Tories are using Brexit for a power grab from Scotland 

POWERS LEGALLY DEVOLVED to Scotland face being dug up and taken by the Tory Brexit Government, according to a senior European Law academic at the University of Edinburgh. 

Dr Tobias Lock, lecturer in European Union Law and co-director of the Edinburgh Europa Institute, has warned that the Tory plans will “cause political tremors” and “cut diagonally through the devolution settlement” by seeking to renegotiate powers over fisheries, agriculture, and the environment that are legally devolved to Scotland. 

The Tory’s Great Repeal Bill white paper admitted that “the [UK] Government intends to replicate the current frameworks provided by EU rules through UK legislation”.  This would impact agriculture, fisheries and the environment, which were fully devolved under the 1998 Scotland Act – but continued to involve EU wide frameworks such as the fisheries (CFP) and agriculture (CAP) policies.  

“The UK government is clear in its wish to re-open discussions about the devolution settlement.” Dr Tobias Lock

A Westminster power-grab in these areas would likely escalate to a legal conflict, and represent a sharp reversal of nearly 20 years progress towards greater devolution in laws such as the 2012 and 2016 Scotland Acts. 

Dr Lock, explaining the situation for the Scottish Centre on European Relations, a new think-tank on Scotland-EU policy issues, wrote: “But the most interesting, and shortest, part of the white paper concerns devolution. The white paper is particularly woolly on this issue, but the little it says has the potential to cause political tremors. The key message appears to be that the UK government ‘intends to replicate the current frameworks provided by EU rules through UK legislation’.

“This, of course, will cut diagonally through the devolution settlement: powers relating in particular to fisheries, agriculture, and the environment are wholly or largely devolved. For a start, this means that the Great Repeal Bill will constitute legislation ‘with regard to devolved matters’ and thus trigger the Sewel Convention. The consent of the devolved legislatures will therefore be needed.”

Read more – Top law professor: Tory Brexit plan implies taking power away from Scotland to Westminster

“The white paper is open about the UK government’s intentions in this regard: Brexit will be an ‘opportunity to determine the level best placed to take decisions on these issues’. The UK government is clear in its wish to re-open discussions about the devolution settlement,” he added. 

While the Tory Government has sought to justify a power-grab as a route to provide a UK-wide market of policy rules, the Leave Campaign had explicitly promised that a Brexit vote would mean substantial new powers for the Scottish Parliament – a promise which has been far down the priority list in the Westminster parliament since last June. 

Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, Mark Elliott, responding to the white paper’s publication said the “implication seems to be new reserved matters will be carved out of exiting devolution settlements”.

Picture courtesy of SteveR

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