The Scottish and Welsh governments have offered a way out of the deadlock over post-Brexit devolution if a “sunset clause” is introduced to put a time limit on any Westminster “power grab”, The Scotsman has learned.
Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones wrote to all peers in the House of Lords yesterday asking them to support an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill putting a limit on the time Westminster could “freeze” any devolved powers returning from Brussels.
The UK government says such a freeze is essential to avoid any changes in regulations within the UK before the different nations can agree how to manage important powers jointly, to keep internal trade flowing.
“Whilst the two governments accept that it may take time to put frameworks in place, regulations must not be open-ended and pressure to agree frameworks should apply to all parties,” the letter states. However, they also insist that devolved administrations consent before any devolved powers are held at Westminster, a principle that the UK government has said it will not concede to.
Following one-to-one meetings with Theresa May on Wednesday, both leaders gave an unexpectedly upbeat assessment of the chances of a deal, with Ms Sturgeon saying differences were not “insurmountable” and Mr Jones saying agreement was “close”.
Separately, peers from across the political divide have tabled their own suggestions in a “kite flying” exercise to try break the deadlock.
They include a proposal from Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock for a five-year sunset clause on any “freeze” to devolved powers.
Lord Foulkes has also suggested a “UK council of ministers’ could decide which powers are devolved and which are frozen by a majority vote.
Disputes could be passed down to an advisory group made up of the speakers and presiding officers of all four parliaments.
Conservative peer Lord Mackay of Clashfern suggested MPs could vote on powers that government leaders cannot agree on.
Lord Foulkes said peers were becoming “exasperated” at the lack of agreement between the parties after a year of talks, and with a few weeks until the Withdrawal Bill is due to be voted on by the Lords, in May.
A UK government source said the amendments were a “probing” exercise and that changes wouldn’t be made to the bill until ministers introduced their own amendments at the last stage of scrutiny in the Lords.