Last-ditch Brexit talks in effort to end deadlock

Brexit minister Mike Russell said he is confident that a deal can be made on post-Brexit powers. Picture: Andrew Cowan
Brexit minister Mike Russell said he is confident that a deal can be made on post-Brexit powers. Picture: Andrew Cowan
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A breakthrough in the Brexit powers stand-off between Holyrood and Westminster could still be reached as crunch talks loom between both sides in London this week, Scotland’s Brexit minister has said.

Mike Russell suggested yesterday that it may even be “easier” to reach a deal, despite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon claiming that the Tories were ready to demolish devolution.

The Scottish Government last week rejected UK ministers’ proposals to amend the European Union Withdrawal Bill in an effort to end the long-running row with the devolved administrations over where powers will lie when the UK leaves the EU. The Welsh government has accepted the deal despite similar concerns over a “power grab”.

Mr Russell insisted he is still confident a deal can be reached as he prepares to meet UK Cabinet Secretary David Lidington on Wednesday.

Mr Russell said: “I think a deal is perfectly possible. Paradoxically I think it is probably easier to achieve because it is absolutely clear what will produce a deal and what won’t.”

He added: “I don’t think there is a huge amount that separates us now.”

Mr Russell also said he would give consideration to amendments being tabled by Lord Hope in an attempt to break the deadlock.

“If these amendments are as positive and hopeful as I think they probably will be,” he said.

“Once I have seen them I’m happy to comment on them, and I hope I can be very positive about them.”

The Scottish Conservatives said his comments “flew in the face” of the First Minister’s remarks.

Ms Sturgeon said yesterday the latest amendments put forward by UK ministers made a “mockery of consensus” and would “completely demolish” the principle of the devolution settlement.

The stand-off centres on powers being repatriated from Brussels to the UK after Brexit and claims that responsibilities which should come to Holyrood in line with the devolution agreement are being appropriated by Westminster. UK ministers say they need control in these areas – such as farming and fishing – to protect the UK internal market during the immediate post-Brexit years.

New amendments from the UK government to introduce a “sunset clause” so that devolved powers returned to Westminster did not stay there indefinitely have been rejected. They also introduce a requirement for a “consent decision” at Holyrood before ministers can legislate in devolved areas. Ms Sturgeon said the definition of “consent” could even apply if the Scottish Parliament said no.

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “There is an entrenched position from Nicola Sturgeon and it’s obvious she has taken the reins. She is trying to manufacture grievance with the aim of ­promoting another independence referendum.

“She should let her government agree a Brexit deal which works for Scotland – and get on with her day job.”

The UK government said the agreement reached with the Welsh government “will provide legal certainty and increase the powers of the devolved legislatures”.

“We hope that the Scottish Government will now sign up to this sensible, pragmatic compromise,” a spokesman said.