Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May are set for a showdown over Brexit before the end of March, it was revealed after the First Minister rejected the UK Government’s latest offer to resolve a deepening row over a devolution ‘power grab’.
Sources confirmed that a plenary meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee would take place next month, bringing together the leaders the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments to discuss Brexit.
It comes as hopes of breaking the deadlock between London, Edinburgh and Cardiff faded, with Ms Sturgeon claiming that a UK Government proposal on devolved powers returning from Brussels after Brexit “undermines the whole foundation on which devolution is built”.
In a major speech on Monday, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington tried to diffuse the argument, pledging that the “vast majority” of returning powers would go to the devolved administrations, and that around 25 powers in areas such as agriculture and fisheries would only be reserved to facilitate a “pause” to draw up a framework for the whole of the UK.
A deal is essential to avoid a constitutional crisis, with the Scottish and Welsh governments saying they will refuse legislative consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill unless it is amended so that all 111 devolved powers being repatriated go directly to Edinburgh and Cardiff, without restrictions.
The Scottish Government is expected to unveil a Continuity Bill at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday that would assert its authority over the contested powers in a direct constitutional challenge to Westminster. The Welsh Government has said it will do the same.
Ms Sturgeon told the BBC’s Today programme on Tuesday: “We are simply trying to protect the powers that the Scottish Parliament already has - things like agriculture, fishing, environmental policy, food standards, justice, health.
“These are all currently responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. At the moment we have to exercise those powers within the confines of European law.
“But after Brexit, in terms of the devolution settlement, those powers should return to the Scottish Parliament and it should be up to us how we exercise them.
“I will not sign up to something that effectively undermines the whole foundation on which devolution is built and no first minister, no Scottish government worth its salt, should do so.”
A meeting between the First Minister and Prime Minister is likely to come after a 12 March deadline to table amendments to the Withdrawal Bill in the House of Lords, where it is now being scrutinised.
Ministers from the three governments will meet in a last ditch attempt to strike a deal before that deadline, although they not now expected to meet until next week.