‘No way’ Scottish Government will say yes to Brexit bill without changes

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There is “no way” for the Scottish Government will consent to Brexit legislation until UK ministers reveal it will be amended in order to address claims of a Brexit “power grab”.

Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell emerged from the last meeting with UK counterparts in 2017 warning that talks were “no closer” to a deal and had been further complicated by new British guarantees to maintain cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

The Scottish Parliament. Picture: Jane Barlow.

The Scottish Parliament. Picture: Jane Barlow.

Mr Russell said “time is running out” to avoid a potential constitutional crisis and threatened to push ahead with rival Brexit legislation in the Scottish Parliament that unless the UK’s flagship Brexit bill is amended in time.

London and Edinburgh must agree how 111 powers in devolved areas that are currently held by Brussels will be managed before the EU (Withdrawal) Bill reaches the final stage of consideration in the House of Lords in March, when Holyrood will be asked to give its consent.

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Failure to secure agreement from MSPs risks putting the UK constitution under unprecedented strain.

Theresa May’s deputy Damian Green, who is leading negotiations for the UK Government, claimed that progress had been made on agreeing which policy areas could be swiftly devolved, and which would require ‘joint frameworks’ to share decision-making.

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However, the two sides are no closer on the principle of where the powers will reside after Brexit, with the Scottish Government insisting even those powers that will be shared must first be devolved.

The SNP administration fears that if the UK retains powers in areas such as agriculture, where both sides agree they should work together, London could impose its will if talks to set up those frameworks falter.

“If we are to agree any frameworks at all, they have to be on the basis of equality,” Mr Russell said.

“They have to be on the basis of all of us coming together. No one has a veto on them. There is so much confusion on the issue of Northern Ireland, that we need absolute clarity now about how those frameworks are to operate.”

The UK Government says it will bring forward initial changes to Clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill, which deals with devolution, before it passes from the House of Commons to the Lords.

Mr Russell said: “We continue to talk, and the JMC will meet again in January, but we need to see substantial progress on key issues.

“We still haven’t seen an amendment to [Withdrawal] Bill, and the Welsh Government and ourselves have been absolutely clear that we must see that, we must agree it before it is tabled.”

The SNP minister added: “I can’t stress this strongly enough: there is no way we can agree to Clause 11 of Withdrawal Bill and certain other provisions. We’ve made that clear from the beginning, and we still have not seen an amendment.

“There was a possibility of passing that amendment last week; it was not passed. In all those circumstances, this cannot be resolved until that happens with the agreement of the Welsh and the Scottish governments.”