The row over post-Brexit powers for Scotland intensified after the UK Government sent the strongest signal yet that it is ready to push ahead with Brexit legislation if talks with devolved nations fail.
Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said the government would protect the “common market of the UK” from disruption “if there were not to be an agreement”.
It prompted an angry response from the SNP accusing Theresa May’s government of trying to “unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement”.
Downing Street urged devolved administrations to accept an offer of “significant changes” to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would result in most of the 111 powers in devolved areas being repatriated from Brussels passing to Scotland on Brexit day.
However, Westminster would retain an effective veto over 25 of them, in areas such as agriculture, fisheries, environmental standards and public procurement.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “David Lidington has made a considerable offer and we want the devolved administrations to look seriously at that.”
In a speech at the Airbus factory in North Wales, Mr Lidington said the proposal “puts beyond doubt our commitment to a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union, in a way that doesn’t just respect the devolution settlements, but strengthens and enhances them.”
Mr Lidington said Westminster would only exert its control over the 25 powers where a “pause” was necessary to draw up a UK-wide framework to protect the “UK common market” or to meet international obligations. He called for unity and warned that a “divided country at home” would be “weaker, less secure and less prosperous overseas”.
Mr Lidington has warned that the UK will not be able to sign trade deals after Brexit if the Scottish Government insists on full control.
The Scottish and Welsh governments say they will refuse consent and pass legislation asserting authority over the contested powers if there is no agreement.
Ministers from all sides are expected to meet within days in an attempt to break the deadlock before a mid-March deadline to table amendments to the Withdrawal Bill. However, the chances of a deal appear to be diminishing, with SNP Brexit minister Michael Russell claiming that the UK was “using Brexit to try to take control of devolved powers”.
“We are not opposed to UK-wide arrangements on issues such as food labelling when they are in Scotland’s interests – but the fundamental point of principle is that any changes to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, permanent or temporary, can only be made with the agreement of Holyrood.
“The scaremongering over trade deals simply confirms our fears that ultimately the Tories’ aim is to be able to push through policies that Scotland may not agree with.”