The Scottish Government has won the backing of top law officers in Wales and Northern Ireland in its constitutional legal showdown with Westminster over Brexit.
Scotland’s Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, has insisted that Holyrood’s own Brexit Bill is in keeping with the “constitutional framework of devolution” ahead of a crunch hearing at the UK Supreme Court next week.
He also insisted that UK ministers are to blame for any “uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity” in the bitter constitutional stand-off.
Relations between Holyrood and Westminster have sunk to their lowest ebb in the two decades since devolution as the row intensified in recent months. It was prompted over the EU Withdrawal Bill at Westminster which provides the legal framework to repatriate EU powers to the UK after Brexit.
SNP ministers have hit out at the framework which would mean key powers in areas like farming and fishing, which should return to Holyrood in line with the devolution settlement, will instead be held in London. It prompted the Scottish Government to pass its own Brexit Bill, although this was deemed outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament by Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, prompting the referral to the UK Supreme Court.
The Lord Advocate, in a written submission to the Supreme Court, says that after Holyrood refused consent for the UK’s Brexit Bill, Tory ministers could have made changes to account for the “interface” between it’s own legislation and the Scottish Bill.
“The UK government chose not to seek to address the issue by express provision,” according to the Scottish Government submission, which was also co-authored by James Mure QC, Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill and Advocate Lesley Irvine.
“Any uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity arising from the presence on the statute book of these two bills will be a consequence of that legislative choice.”
In it’s legal case, the Scottish Government insists that Holyrood’s Brexit Bill does not relate to reserved issues, including international matters, nor is it incompatible with EU law.
Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin backs the Scottish position.
“All of its provisions are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and this reference should be disposed of accordingly,” he states.
This is also supported by Jeremy Miles, Counsel General for Wales, who says it is “perfectly within the Assembly’s competence” to legislate in advance of exit from the EU.