UK Government rejects calls for changes to repeal bill, setting the stage for Holyrood to refuse consent to Brexit

Chris McQuade

Damian Green says agreement on devolved powers will run “parallel” to Brexit process

UK ministers are refusing to make any changes to the repeal bill that would allow key devolved powers to reside in Scotland after Brexit, setting the stage for the Scottish Parliament to refuse consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill.

First Secretary of State Damian Green is said to have rejected a demand by Scotland’s Brexit Minister Michael Russell to change the bill during negotiations held in Edinburgh on Wednesday, but has said he will agree a deal on devolved powers to Holyrood before Brexit.

Russell had asked for assurances that the Scottish Parliament would have full powers on key issues such as fishing, agriculture and environmental policy making that are currently controlled by the EU.

Speaking after the talks on Wednesday, Russell said: “Today was a useful opportunity for an exchange of views between ourselves and the UK Government on Brexit and the repatriation of powers it will involve.

“But following today’s meeting 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.

“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.”

“It’s hugely in the interests of people in Scotland that we do reach a successful conclusion.” Damien Green MP

Clause 11 of the bill states that any powers currently held in Brussels will automatically be granted to Westminster. Under the 1998 Scotland Act, Agriculture and Fisheries were under Scottish jurisdiction when the Parliament reconvened, but where under EU law at that point. Thus, the Scottish Government believes the powers should automatically return to Edinburgh on Brexit.

But Green has ruled out any changes to the repeal bill, or European Union (withdraw) bill, that states the UK Government will effectively take control of the matters currently devolved to Brussels. The Secretary of State said it was in Scotland’s best interest to reach an agreement over a devolution package separately from the repeal bill.

Speaking to the Guardian, Green said: “It’s hugely in the interests of people in Scotland that we do reach a successful conclusion,”

“When we reach an agreement on where powers lie, then we will clearly have that agreement and that agreement will be public. I don’t see that as a problem at all.”

It had previously been thought that talks on the distribution of powers would happen after Brexit, but Green stated yesterday morning that in practice they were running “parallel” to negotiations on leaving the EU.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously called the repeal bill a “naked power grab” by Westminster to absorb current EU law into UK British law.

“This is not a power grab, it is a power bonanza for the Scottish Parliament.” David Mundell MP

Sturgeon has joined forces with Welsh counterpart Carwyn Jones to oppose the bill that would consolidate current EU powers to Westminster after Brexit.

A spokesman for the First Minister told the Guardian: “We’re quite clear that the bill as it stands must be changed for us to be in a position where we can give legislative consent,” he said.

Speaking to the BBC in July, Scottish Secretary  David Mundell denied the bill was a “power grab, “he said: “This is not a power grab, it is a power bonanza for the Scottish Parliament because after this bill has been implemented the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it has today.

“I’m happy to be held to account for that statement once the process has been delivered.”

Picture courtesy of Alex Mihis

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