No breakthrough yet in Brexit powers dispute, MSPs told

Scotland's Brexit minister Mike Russell.
Scotland's Brexit minister Mike Russell.
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Theresa May’s de-facto deputy has failed to respond to an “urgent” call from Scottish ministers to come to Holyrood to try to end the dispute over Brexit powers.

Mike Russell, the Scottish Brexit minister, wrote to David Lidington on May 15 - the same day that Holyrood voted formally against the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

However, he told MSPs: “More than a week after that letter I still haven’t received any reply at all.”

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He spoke out at the same time as it emerged Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) general secretary Grahame Smith has written to the Prime Minister, urging her to strike an agreement that “respects our devolved institutions”.

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After last week’s vote, in which SNP, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat MSPs all refused to give formal approval to the UK legislation. Mr Russell called on Mr Lidington - who has been leading talks with the devolved administrations over the Withdrawal Bill - to come to Scotland and hear their concerns.

SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon said the failure to reply by the UK Cabinet Office Minister was an example of the “complete lack of respect shown to this Parliament” by Westminster.

Mr Russell added: “I really do think it is time that the UK Government paid some attention to the democratic legitimacy of this chamber and of this government, and negotiated with it.”

Asked by Tory MSP Adam Tomkins about the impact this would have on plans to set up common frameworks across the UK, to ensure a nationwide approach in areas such as fishing, farming and environmental regulations, Mr Russell said he could “not really negotiate with somebody who won’t come and have a conversation”.

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The Brexit minister said if Mr Tomkins could “persuade his colleague Mr Lidington to come and have a conversation with the party leaders here that would take us a step further on”.

He added: “Officials will continue to discuss these matters but until Mr Lidington addresses these issues I don’t see how we can have any more influence than we have just now.”

The long-running dispute between Edinburgh and London centres on what should happen to powers currently held by Brussels after the UK leaves the EU.

Scottish Government ministers have insisted that the Bill in its current form could restrict Holyrood’s powers for up to seven years after Brexit.

Meanwhile Mr Smith stressed it would be “simply not acceptable” for Westminister to be able to legislate in areas devolved to Holyrood.

The STUC general secretary said: “It is essential that agreement is reached, not only to respect our devolved institutions but also to ensure the effective operation of the UK’s unitary market.

“The reality of Brexit will be shaped by the decisions taken now about where power lies, how it is shared and how it is used. We all have a stake in these decisions and our institutions and democratic processes must allow the people to be heard.

“Arrangements that allow the UK Government to legislate on areas of devolved competence, without the agreement of the Parliament elected by the Scottish people to serve their interests, is simply not acceptable.

“The Prime Minister must set aside her centralising tendencies and recognise that the principle of devolution demands that she reach an agreement with the Scottish Government that respects our devolved institutions.”