MSPs vote to fast track controversial Brexit law

Brexit minister Michael Russell
Brexit minister Michael Russell
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A majority of MSPs yesterday voted for Nicola Sturgeon’s Brexit Continuity Bill to be rushed through Holyrood as emergency legislation, despite warnings that doing so treats the parliament with disdain.

Eighty-six SNP, Labour, Lib Dem and Green MSPs voted for a Scottish Government motion calling for the controversial bill to be fast-tracked through Holyrood in three weeks in March.

They were opposed by 27 Scottish Conservatives who warned the move would be “dangerous” and prevent proper scrutiny of the UK Withdrawal from the EU (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

The Scottish Government has introduced the Continuity Bill to provide a stop gap if MSPs fail to give consent to the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

The Scottish Government has proposed the Continuity Bill amid claims that Brexit will see a Westminster “power grab” of returning Brussels powers that should be devolved.

Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell argued that emergency legislation was required because a tight timetable was being driven by Westminster.

Addressing MSPs, Mr Russell said: “In normal times such a bill would follow a normal timetable. But these are not normal times, after much serious consideration, both the Welsh Government and ourselves have concluded that if the continuity bills are to defend the principles of devolution during the Brexit process – if they are to achieve their purpose – then such a timetable is necessary.

“...The timetable for this process is being driven not by us but by the timetable at Westminster for their EU Withdrawal Bill. It is likely that third reading in the Lords will take place in early May, and that it will be submitted for Royal Assent shortly thereafter.

“It is essential that the continuity bills in Wales and Scotland becomes law before the EU Withdrawal Bill does.”

But Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Professor Adam Tomkins argued that there was no need for emergency legislation because “there is no emergency”.

Professor Tomkins said the Lord Advocate had said the bill cannot come into force until after the UK had left the EU, adding that could not happen for another 13 months.

He said there was a “glaring inconsistency” between the 13 months to get the legislation through and the three weeks being advocated by the SNP.

Professor Tomkins said: “Emergency legislation should be avoided where ever possible that’s our starting position. Why? Because emergency legislation denies effective parliamentary scrutiny. Today it is the SNP who are treating this parliament with disdain. It is seeking to rush through controversial legislation – significant elements of which may be beyond our competence altogether. This is not respecting the devolution settlement and it is not respecting this parliament.”

He claimed emergency legislation was “unwelcome, unnecessary and dangerous”.

Professor Tomkins added: “When we legislate in haste we legislate in error. This is an invitation from the SNP to make bad law. This is an invitation from the SNP to make law badly. To those invitations we, on these benches, say: `no, thank-you’.”