Powers row widens to cover new areas as UK turns to court of public opinion

The row between the UK and Scottish governments over post-Brexit powers has widened following publication of a list of responsibilities Whitehall intends to 'freeze' at Westminster which includes a dozen new areas of dispute.

From left, Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Brexit minister Mike Russel, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington and Scottish Secretary David Mundell. Picture: contributed

Scottish ministers said they were “alarmed” that the UK government intends to take full control of powers over state aid for industry and benefits for migrants, making a deal to avoid a constitutional crisis over Brexit legislation appear even more distant.

David Lidington, the UK Cabinet Office minister, said publication of the list would give the public “cast-iron evidence” that the UK government was not mounting a “power grab”.

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Among the 24 areas where the UK government wants to keep temporary control after leaving the EU are public procurement rules, animal health, food safety, and food labelling. In Scotland, another 24 new powers would be devolved automatically, while 59 would be subject to non-legislative frameworks requiring consultation on decision-making between the different governments.

An amendment to the Withdrawal Bill is expected to be tabled early next week that does not have the support of the devolved administrations.
Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May will take up the dispute when they meet on Wednesday. Scottish Secretary David Mundell admitted negotiations could drag on until May, when the House of Lords is expected to pass the vital legislation.

“We are publishing this material today because this can no longer just be a conversation between governments – this process has to be open and transparent,” Mr Lidington said. “We are discussing with the devolved governments how this process will work but, as the UK government, we feel very strongly that we must have the ability to take action to protect the UK internal market which represents a huge investment to everyone in the UK.”

The SNP’s Brexit minister, Michael Russell, said: “Unless the bill is changed, Westminster could soon be in control of these policies amounting to a major power grab and a re-writing of the devolution settlement the people of Scotland voted for so decisively.

“I am alarmed to see some powers included in a further category, which the UK government says are reserved and would therefore in their view not even require consultation with the Scottish Government.

“These include geographical food indicators – vital for key Scottish industries – and state aid which has a role in supporting our economy.”