The Scottish Conservatives have offered to broker a Brexit deal for more Holyrood powers in an attempt to break the stalemate between the UK and Scottish Governments over EU withdrawal.
Senior Scottish Conservatives will meet with Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Brexit minister Michael Russell in a bid to find common ground on the impact of leaving the bloc on Scotland.
Mr Russell accepted the offer of a meeting made by Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw after months of SNP claims that the UK Government is using Brexit to engineer a “power grab” from the Scottish Parliament.
The olive branch was held out by the Tories as Mr Russell outlined the Scottish Government’s response to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which was passed by the Commons in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Mr Russell repeated his claim that the Bill threatened the founding principles of devolution and said Scottish ministers were considering their own legislation to prepare for the “shock” of Brexit if the UK Government was not prepared to change approach.
Earlier the Brexit Minister claimed the Withdrawal Bill, which deals with powers returning from the European Parliament, would see Holyrood lose more than 100 parliamentary powers to Westminster.
The SNP has complained that the proposed legislation in its current form would see EU powers “re-reserved” to Westminster when they should in fact be devolved to Holyrood.
The UK Government has argued that a substantial number of EU powers would then be transferred from Westminster to Holyrood after Brexit - apart from those where it makes sense to have a UK legislative framework.
Making a statement to Holyrood, Mr Russell said the Scottish Government was unable to agree to the Brexit Bill as it was currently drafted, adding that he was adopting the same position as the Welsh Government.
But Mr Russell said now was not the time to bring forward a so-called legislative consent motion, which would allow MSPs to accept or reject the Brexit Bill.
Instead, the Scottish Government would attempt to amend the legislation, arguing that, as it stood, it was a “deliberate decision” by the UK to use Brexit to take powers that should be within Holyrood control.
He said the Scottish Parliament would have no say on what comes back from the EU in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, research or justice co-operation.
At the conclusion of his statement Mr Russell made an overtures to the Scottish Conservatives saying: “If there are members in this Chamber who have influence with the UK Government, I would ask that they use that influence to secure the changes that the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government seek.
“If, however, any members believe that the right approach is to support the UK Government in such actions, which go directly against 20 years of the settled will of the Scottish people, and the effective operation of devolution, then let them say it and be judged accordingly.”
Mr Carlaw interpreted Mr Russell’s words as a “challenge” and just one day after Nicola Sturgeon called for a “spirit of consensus” on Brexit, he suggested a cross party meeting.
“The practical issue at hand is a bill to ensure that arrangements are in place – not at some distant point but in the immediate hours after the UK has withdrawn from the EU in March 2019,” Mr Carlaw said.
“Whatever our wishes about the outcome of the vote the vast majority of us campaigned for last June we have a duty to prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU.
“Last week on the Government’s programme for Government debate I made clear that Brexit is not politics as normal. If...there is a genuine concern matched by an equally genuine reserve to address and overcome this, the Scottish Conservatives at Holyrood will play our part.”
Mr Carlaw said he and Tory constitution spokesman Professor Adam Tomkins would be prepared to “meet bilaterally” with Mr Swinney and Mr Russell in a bid to make progress.
He added acceptance of his offer would help efforts to have an orderly EU exit and a “substantial and coherent future additional settlement of responsibilities for this parliament.”
Mr Russell said he welcomed Mr Carlaw’s suggestion “very warmly” and “immediately” committed to the meeting between the four politicians.
Las night Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “Claims of a power grab are simply nonsense. Holyrood will not lose any of the decision-making powers it currently exercises, indeed the Scottish Parliament will gain new decision making powers.
“Both the UK and Scottish governments agree that we will need UK-wide frameworks in some areas. It is vital we get this right. Our top priority must be to avoid putting up any barriers to trade within the UK, which would do untold damage to Scottish businesses.
“It is important we work together on these complex issues. Rather than playing politics, the Scottish Government must recognise its responsibility to work constructively with the UK Government as we prepare to leave the EU.”
Mr Mundell added: “The sooner we can press ahead with detailed talks the better. We want to discuss the Scottish Government’s views on this.”
Labour’s Europe spokesman Lewis Macdonald said his party would not agree to the Brexit bill in its current form.
Mr Macdonald said: “Labour will not grant legislative consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill, in its current form. It represents a Tory power grab that concentrates power in the hands of minister and drives a coach and horses through the devolution settlement delivered by Labour in 1999.
“This is a time for cool heads and grown up politics. Labour will seek to amend the Bill at Westminster to support devolution. We need a guarantee from the SNP that it will support those amendments.
“Labour can fix this flawed Bill– but we need assurance from the SNP that it will support us.”
Liberal Democrat European spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP said: “Parliament should expect a guarantee from the UK Government that everything that is developed remains devolved. We will work with the Scottish Government on strengthening not weakening the Scottish Parliament.
“So the changes to the UK Government’s proposed law needs to be achieved. As do agreed frameworks across such matters as fisheries and agriculture. The Scottish Government say that the UK Government are using the process of Brexit as a cover for taking powers. I would not give them the credit for such a constitutional conspiracy. The reality is that they cannot agree their Brexit negotiating position with the EU. Relations with Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are low down the priority list of this shambolic UK Government.”