Mike Russell will hold further talks with UK Cabinet Secretary David Lidington this week and insists the SNP administration is seeking to strike a deal that will defuse concerns of a “power grab.”
The situation escalated last week when the Scottish Government published its own Brexit Bill at Holyrood setting out the proposed legal framework for Scotland after withdrawal from the EU. MSPs have warned they will reject the UK’s EU Withdrawal amid concerns that it will see many powers being repatriated from Brussels, which should belong at Holyrood, instead held at Westminster.
“The problem that exists is on the single word agree,” Mr Russell told BBC Sunday Politics Scotland yesterday.
“I’m meeting David Lidington again on Thursday along with my Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford.
“If they are prepared to put on the table an amendment to their own Bill which means that the Scottish Parliament will agree to any framework and will agree to how it’s governed, we can do that deal. It’s as simple as that. If they don’t, we can’t.”
Initial concerns emerged when the UK government proposed holding on to about 124 powers, including key areas such as farming and fishing, after Brexit. UK ministers have since compromised, but are still demanding the power to set common UK frameworks in some of these areas in order to protect the integrity of the UK single market.
Mr Russell added: “We’ve made it clear that we’re quite happy with the idea of frameworks, we’re quite happy to agree the governance of those frameworks. But it has to be agreed because those are powers that exist in Scotland and without agreeing to it, they could conceivably impose a framework that would ride a coach and horses through work that was already being done, for example, to support farmers.”
At the moment, the UK government is only proposing to “consult” with Scottish ministers over the frameworks which could cover issues like regulations for transportation of livestock north and south of the Border.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday admitted there had been “movement” on the part of the UK government, but added: “It doesn’t yet address the issue of principle at stake.
“We accept, as do Wales, that there will be areas where common frameworks across the UK make sense and that would probably be the case if and when Scotland becomes independent. But the question is ‘who decides?’ and at the moment the UK government’s proposition is that even in areas of devolved competence - agriculture, the environment, fishing, justice - they should be able to impose frameworks on Scotland and Wales, and our position is that where there are devolved areas it should only be by the consent of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, so I hope we can reach agreement.
“We’re working hard towards that, but I’m going to continue to be frank about it - there is an issue of principle at stake that we won’t compromise on because if we did we would allow Westminster to exercise a power grab on the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament and I don’t think any first minister worth their salt should agree to that.”
Downing Street said on Friday that Theresa May and Ms Sturgeon agreed to work to break the deadlock around the Bill in a phone call after the Prime Minister’s most recent Brexit speech.
Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Scotland Lesley Laird said: “The Scottish Government needs to publish the areas of dispute it has with the UK government over the EU Withdrawal Bill so the public can understand how we have got into this mess. Labour has said all the way through the negotiations that both governments should be as open and transparent with the people of Scotland as possible. An important first step in that process is publishing these areas of dispute.”