Both the UK and Scottish Governments claim they have been vindicated after the Supreme Court partially upheld a Brexit bill passed by Holyrood, which is at the heart of a row over an alleged ‘power grab’.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that except for one section, the Scottish Parliament’s Continuity Bill - which asserts Holyrood’s authority over 24 disputed powers in devolved areas that are returning from Brussels after Brexit - is within the Scottish Parliament’s competence.
Only Section 17, which would require UK ministers to get the consent of their Scottish counterparts before passing subordinate legislation in devolved areas, was found to be outside Holyrood’s competence.
However, because the UK Withdrawal Act, which brings EU law into British statute, received Royal Assent while the Continuity Bill was challenged to the Supreme Court, judges in London found that several more sections of the Scottish bill are now also outside Holyrood’s competence.
Responding to the judgement, the Scottish Government accused London of “constitutional vandalism” and having “changed the rules of the game midway through the match.”
The UK Withdrawal Act was added to Schedule 4 of the Scotland Act, a list of legislation that is ‘protected’ and cannot be modified by the Scottish Parliament.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that the ruling was “an important vindication” for the Scottish Government.
“With the exception of just one section, the Scottish Continuity Bill WAS within Scottish Parliament competence at point of introduction,” she added.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “The Supreme Court has provided much-needed legal clarity that the Continuity Bill goes beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
“This demonstrates clearly that it was the right thing for the UK Government to refer the Bill to the Court.
“It is now for the Scottish Government to consider how to proceed, and we hope Holyrood will take a pragmatic approach and work constructively with us as we leave the EU.”
The Scottish Government’s Constitutional Affairs Secretary Michael Russell said parts of the Holyrood bill had been “thwarted as a result of steps taken by the UK Government”.
“For the first time ever, UK Law Officers delayed an act of the Scottish Parliament from becoming law by referring it to the Supreme Court,” Mr Russell said.
“Then the UK Government, for the first time ever, invited the UK Parliament to pass a Bill which they knew would cut the powers of the Scottish Parliament without its consent.
“The UK Government changed the rules of the game midway through the match.
“This is an act of constitutional vandalism but that does not take away from the fact this judgment makes clear MSPs were perfectly entitled to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit at the time this Bill was passed. The UK Government’s arguments have been clearly rejected.
“We will now reflect on this judgment and discuss with other parties before coming back to Parliament to set out the best way forward.”