David Lidington: Brexit must not be used as excuse to ‘break up UK’

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David Lidington has urged Scottish and Welsh ministers to accept an offer from Theresa May’s administration to rewrite the flagship Brexit bill to address their concerns.

Westminster is at odds with Holyrood and Cardiff Bay about whether powers returned from Brussels after Brexit go to the devolved administrations or the UK Government.

David Lidington said that Brexit must not be used as an excuse to break up the United Kingdom. Picture; PA

David Lidington said that Brexit must not be used as an excuse to break up the United Kingdom. Picture; PA

Mr Lidington said Brexit must not be used as an excuse to break up the United Kingdom at “a crossroads in our history”.

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He said the Government had made a “considerable offer” to the devolved administrations with a commitment that the “vast majority” of powers returning from Brussels will start off in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast rather than Whitehall.

“Let’s be in no doubt: this would mean a very big change to the EU Withdrawal Bill that is before Parliament and a significant step forward in these negotiations,” he insisted.

“This would put on the face of the Bill what we have always said was our intention: wide-ranging devolution not just away from Brussels, but from Westminster too.

“If accepted, this offer puts beyond doubt our commitment to a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union, in a way that doesn’t just respect the devolution settlements, but strengthens and enhances them.”

Mr Lidington said under the plans Westminster would only be involved where a “pause” was necessary to draw up a UK-wide framework to protect the “UK common market” or to meet international obligations.

He added that the proposals showed the Government’s “seriousness about delivering more powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” while preventing extra red tape for businesses trading across the four nations of the UK.

Speaking at Airbus in North Wales, Mr Lidington called for unity behind the approach to Brexit and warned that a “divided country at home” would be “weaker, less secure and less prosperous overseas”.

He said: “Leaving the EU presents many challenges for our centuries-old union story - and opportunities too.

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“Some want to use this as an excuse to loosen these ties that bind us together or even sever them completely.

“I believe such an outcome would leave every one of our four nations both weaker and poorer.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been a vocal critic of the way the devolved administrations have been treated during Britain’s exit from the European Union.

SNP ministers at Holyrood refused to put forward Westminster Brexit legislation for consent votes in protest over how powers would be brought back from Brussels.

Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell said Mr Lidington, who campaigned for Remain during the referendum, had previously hit out at the “nonsense” of those who backed leave.

Mr Russell said: “Today, in a speech in Wales he is lambasting the devolved administrations for not cheerleading for that same policy, as he now does.

“The evidence hasn’t changed - why has he?”