- REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
- Theresa May’s right-hand man Damian Green fails to persuade the Scottish government to approve the Brexit repeal bill. Nicola Sturgeon believes UK government will use Brexit to seize control over policy areas that she believes ought to be devolved to Scotland. Green will meet with Scottish ministers again in an attempt to reach an agreement. Failure to receive Scotland’s backing would “deepen what is already a very significant crisis,” Scottish Brexit Minister Mike Russell warns.
LONDON – Talks between the Scottish and UK governments have failed to produce an agreement on what powers should be devolved to Scotland after Britain leaves the European Union, according to the BBC.
First Secretary of State Damian Green met with Scotland’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell and Deputy First Minister John Swinney on Wednesday to try to reassure them that Theresa May’s government won’t use Brexit as a means of seizing control of powers that Scottish government wants for Edinburgh.
Nicola Sturgeon’s government in Scotland wants full control over fisheries, farming, justice, policing, and environmental law after Brexit. These areas of policy are currently controlled or partly controlled by the EU.
Green described the meeting as “good” and was able to agree on another meeting with the Scottish ministers to discuss Brexit further.
However, Green failed to convince the SNP politicians that UK government is not planning what Sturgeon described as a “naked power grab.” As a consequence, the Scottish government still intends to withhold consent for the Brexit repeal bill – formally known as the European Union (withdrawal) Bill.
Speaking after the meeting, Russell told BBC Scotland: “The Scottish government wants to move forward on this issue with the UK government. We’ve made it clear we don’t believe Brexit is the right thing but we’ve agreed to work with them and we’ve tried to do that from the beginning.
“But we can’t do it on the basis of undermining the Scottish Parliament, we can’t do it on the basis of taking powers away from Scotland.
“But we are willing to listen, and that’s why a positive outcome of this was another meeting, proposed by the first secretary [Green] to bring us back together and we hope at that meeting they will come forward with some concrete proposals about issues.”
Asked whether the Scottish government still refuses to approve the Bill, the Scottish minister added: “Right now, the recommendation of the Scottish government will make will be to say that we could not approve this bill.
“It’s not a veto, and the UK government will be aware of that. But it would deepen what is already a very significant crisis, in my view, if they were to overrule the Scottish Parliament.”
What is the Bill? And why are the Scottish and UK governments falling out over it?
The Bill, first published in July, will take all EU law currently affecting Britain and transpose it into domestic law by repealing the European Communities Act (1972). It was first announced at the Conservative Party conference in October and is scheduled to be put to Parliament next month when MPs return from the summer recess.
Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones in July accused the UK government of making a “naked power grab” with the Bill, and said they could not support it unless May is willing to make some major revisions. They believe that the Conservative government will use the Bill as a means of seizing control of powers that they believe ought to be devolved to the Scottish and Welsh administrations. In a joint statement last month, Sturgeon and Jones said:
“We have repeatedly tried to engage with the UK government on these matters and have put forward constructive proposals about how we can deliver an outcome which will protect the interests of all the nations in the UK, safeguard our economies and respect devolution.
“Regrettably, the Bill does not do this. Instead, it is a naked power grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies.”
The UK government has pledged to seek the support of Scotland and Wales before pressing ahead with the Bill via a “legislative consent motion.” These motions relate to the convention that devolved administrations must give consent to legislation on matters that they would ordinarily have sovereignty over, under the so-called Sewel Convention.
This is just a convention and has no legal force. The UK Parliament in Westminster has legislative supremacy over all of the devolved administrations. If the Scottish or Welsh administrations refuse to sign any legislative consent motions relating to Brexit, May’s Conservative government can simply ignore it and push ahead anyway.
However, any refusal to consent will have political implications that a minority government under a weakened May could struggle to endure. As Catherine Barnard, professor of European law at the University of Cambridge told the Guardian earlier this summer: “The legal position is one thing, and the political position is quite another, particularly with a weakened prime minister.”