Holyrood-Westminster Brexit dispute could be resolved, says Russell

Mike Russell says Brexit is still not certain
Mike Russell says Brexit is still not certain
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The Scottish Government’s long-running dispute with Westminster over key Brexit legislation could be resolved, if amendments tabled in the House of Lords are accepted by the UK Government.

Holyrood’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell said while there had been no signal from Conservative ministers in London over the amendments, they could provide “a way forward”.

He spoke ahead of amendments to Clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill being discussed in the Lords on Wednesday.

The debate comes as the UK Government hosts a Joint Ministerial Council meeting, bringing politicians from the devolved administrations together with their London counterparts.

While the Welsh Government has dropped its objections to the Bill, the Scottish Government maintains it could restrict Holyrood’s powers for up to seven years, and is insisting further changes be made before it can grant consent to the legislation.

MSPs are likely to decide on that on May 15, Mr Russell said, when they debate the issue for the final time.

The dispute between Scotland and the UK centred on what should happen to powers returning from Brussels after Britain quits the European Union.

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But Mr Russell said the debate on Wednesday in the House of Lords on the devolution section of the Bill was “very significant”, adding there “are amendments there which could resolve this issue”.

A series of amendments to the Bill have been tabled by the Conservative peer Lord Mackay of Clashfern and crossbench peer Lord Hope of Craighead.

Mr Russell told MSPs on Holyrood’s Delegated Powers Committee: “Were they to be passed in their entirety that would resolve the issue.

“One way forward is for the UK Government to accept the amendments in the House of Lords, as we have indicated the amendments that comes from Lords Hope and Mackay would, we think, do the job.

“That would be a way forward and we are looking for that way forward.”

But with Holyrood having passed its own Continuity Bill, Mr Russell said MSPs could refuse to give formal consent to the Withdrawal Bill.

While the Scottish Government’s legislation is being challenged in the Supreme Court by the UK Government, the Brexit Minister said: “We remain very confident that the Conitnuity Bill is perfectly competent.”

“I’m not preparing for failure in the Supreme Court.”

On the issue of whether Holyrood consents to the UK legislation, he was clear in saying: “It is open to the Scottish Parliament to withhold consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill, given alternative arrangements in the form of the Continuity Bill are in place.”

He also said MSPs could consent to some parts of the Bill but not others.

Holyrood refusing consent would not prevent the Bill from being passed - but it would be the first time the UK Government would have forced through legislation against the wishes of the Scottish Parliament.

“Legislative consent is in the end given or withheld by Parliament,” Mr Russell said.

“It is our intention, with the permission of the Parliament, to have the final debate on this in the Parliament on May 15. So it will I think go to the wire.”