Brexit Secretary David Davis said that opposition to the Repeal Bill, which will transfer European Union law into British statute at the point of Brexit, would risk causing chaos in areas of government where thousands of European regulations are currently in effect.
It comes days after it was confirmed that the Scottish Parliament will get a vote on elements of the Repeal Bill affecting devolved responsibilities.
Holyrood cannot block the bill from being passed at Westminster, but voting against a Legislative Consent Motion on the central piece of Brexit law would deliver a major political blow to the government and trigger a renewed constitutional crisis.
SNP figures have suggested they could trade their support for the Repeal Bill at Holyrood and Westminster for a place at Brexit negotiations for the Scottish Government, a demand that has so far been rejected by UK ministers.
Labour has also said it could oppose the Repeal Bill at Westminster, where a defeat for the government would throw Brexit into disarray and put the UK’s exit from the EU in doubt.
“The point about the great repeal bill is that it takes European law and puts it into British law so there’s no black hole at the other end, and that is very, very important,” Mr Davis said in a TV interview yesterday.
“If somebody disrupts that, they’re taking on themselves the responsibility for making the British statute book, British law, unworkable when we come out of the European Union. Do they really want to do that? I don’t think so.”
He said a defeat at Westminster was “very improbable” and claimed Labour were guilty of “cynical opposition” after having previously committed not to block Brexit.
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has suggested Nationalist backing for Brexit legislation could be secured in exchange for meeting the party’s demands on Brussels talks.
“Nobody’s threatening anything at the moment,” Mr Blackford said yesterday. “The important thing is we now know there will be Legislative Consent Motion that will have to come before the Scottish Parliament.
“What we’re saying to the government in London is: let’s work together to find an effective compromise that respects your position but also respects ours as well.”
Critics rounded on Mr Davis after he admitted in the same interview that he could not be sure the UK would get a trade deal with the EU. The Brexit Secretary said he was “pretty sure” an agreement could be struck but left the door open to leaving the bloc without one, saying no deal “would be better than a punishment deal”.
Last week Chancellor Philip Hammond said that no deal would be “very, very bad” for the UK.
Asked if he was sure there would be a deal agreed, Mr Davis told the BBC: “I’m pretty sure, I am not 100 per cent sure, you can never be, it’s a negotiation. I’m sure there will be a deal, whether it’s the deal I want, which is a free trade agreement, the customs agreement, and so on, I’m pretty sure, but I’m not certain.”
Mr Davis said part of his portfolio was planning for a bad outcome. He said: “We cannot have a circumstance where the other side says that they are going to punish you. So, if that happens then there is a walk-away, and we have to plan for that.”
SNP MP Hannah Bardell claimed the Conservative government was “clueless” on how to get a good outcome from Brexit talks.
“Their disastrous plans to rip us out of the single market and customs union will cost as many as 80,000 jobs across Scotland – and for a key UK government minister to come out and say he isn’t certain of getting a deal that allows continued tariff-free access to the world’s biggest marketplace is as astonishing as it is concerning.”
The government is today due to publish the detail of its plan to secure the rights of more than three million EU citizens living in the UK, and one million Britons in Europe, after Prime Minister Theresa May presented an outline to EU leaders in Brussels on Friday.
Mr Davis said the UK would be looking to continue the European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) initiative that ensures free medical care abroad.
And he said he was open to the idea of a joint UK-EU legal panel overseeing the rights of EU citizens in Britain as a compromise, with the UK government refusing to accept demands that the European Court of Justice continue to guarantee those rights after Brexit.
He said: “We’re looking to see if we can get a continuation of the Ehic scheme as it now exists. And if we can’t get one then we will provide one unilaterally.”
Mr Davis said government plans for dealing with the status of EU nationals in the UK would not make them “second-class” citizens but give them “effectively British citizenship rights”.
“They get the same residence rights, the same employment rights, the same health rights, the same welfare rights, the same pensions rights and so on, almost the equivalent to British citizens.
“The only thing they don’t get is the right to vote.”
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow attorney-general, Shami Chakrabarti, has suggested the party could allow free movement of people to continue after Brexit under a different name to ease access to the single market.
She said: “We haven’t said we’ll have control of free movement of people, you can’t necessarily have complete control, but what we want is to be able to have fair migration that avoids people’s jobs being undercut.”
Ms Chakrabarti insisted that Labour could negotiate a new arrangement which would allow the UK access to the single market.
She said: “It may not be called staying in the free market and having free movement, it may be called something else, but what it’s called doesn’t matter, what’s important is that jobs come first, the economy comes first and that means getting tariff-free access to the single market and the formalities we will negotiate.”
Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said his party wanted Brexit to work for jobs and growth, but did not confirm Labour’s position on membership of the single market, saying they were not “wedded to any particular institutional framework”.
Their comments came after 50 Labour politicians wrote to leader Jeremy Corbyn calling on him to fight “unambiguously for membership of the single market” in the Brexit negotiations.
Chuka Umunna, David Lammy and Liz Kendall were among MPs behind the letter published last week which urged Mr Corbyn to “strongly oppose” Mrs May’s decision to take single market membership “off the table” in the discussion.
Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Rev Justin Welby, yesterday called on Mrs May to “draw much of the poison from the debate” by setting up a cross-party commission to advise her on Brexit.