UK Government's Brexit bill under attack on all fronts

The UK Government is facing an attack on its Brexit legislation from multiple fronts over fears it will 'drive a coach and horses' through the devolution settlement.

The Scottish and Welsh governments, political parties and legal experts all issued warnings over the impact on the powers of the Scottish Parliament as MPs begin debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill at Westminster.

Three senior Labour figures said the legislation was unacceptable unless plans to ring-fence powers in devolved areas at Westminster are changed.

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In a joint article, shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, shadow Scotland Secretary Lesley Laird, and the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said: “A Tory Government are threatening to drive a coach and horses through that devolution settlement, using Brexit as a pretext for an unprecedented attempt to centralise power still further in Whitehall.”

The Scottish Government’s Brexit secretary Michael Russell has written to his opposite number David Davis to complain that the UK Government’s attitude towards the devolved nations was “intolerable”.

And the Law Society of Scotland insisted that the Withdrawal Bill should be amended to avoid stripping the Scottish Parliament of some of its powers.

The body that represents Scottish solicitors warned the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will removing “legislative competence” from Holyrood in devolved areas such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment.

MPs will today begin debating the Bill, which will transfer EU law into UK statute and ring-fence powers at Whitehall currently administered by the Scottish Government.

UK ministers say many of those powers will be devolved, but some will be retained to prevent regulatory differences and barriers to trade within the UK.

At yesterday’s PMQs, Theresa May said she would “listen carefully” to concerns from her own backbenchers about the scale of so-called “Henry VIII” powers in the bill, which give ministers the powers to change or abandon EU rules after they are repatriated.

Mrs May, who will sit on the front bench for today’s debate, said last night that MPs should respect “our shared aim: to help get the best Brexit for Britain”.

Opening the debate today, Brexit Secretary David Davis is expected to say the bill will deliver a “functioning statute book” after Brexit.

“In bringing forward this bill, we are ensuring the smoothest possible exit from the EU – an exit that enables the continued stability of the UK’s legal system, and maximises certainty for business, consumers and individuals across the UK,” Mr Davis will say.

“If anyone in this House finds a substantive right that is not carried forward into UK law, they should say so.