Holyrood Brexit deal ‘very close’, says David Mundell
A deal with Holyrood to avoid a constitutional crisis over Brexit is “very close”, Scottish Secretary David Mundell said yesterday as MPs prepared to debate amendments to legislation branded a “power grab” by devolved administrations.
Scottish Conservative MPs have come under pressure to rebel against their party and support amendments that would see powers returning from Brussels after Brexit passed directly to Edinburgh and Cardiff rather than Westminster.
The Commons will vote on changes to Clauses 10 and 11 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, with opposition parties united behind calls for the legislation to be redrafted.
Brexit Secretary David Davis is understood to have signalled his willingness to redraft the bill but changes will not be put forward until the bill moves on, meaning legislation is likely to clear another hurdle tonight.
However, Scotland’s Brexit Secretary, Michael Russell, repeated his warning that the Scottish and Welsh governments cannot accept the Withdrawal Bill as it stands, and will reject legislative consent motions in the new year unless changes are made.
Mr Mundell said the UK government is very close to reaching an agreement with Holyrood.
He said: “The SNP might vote against the Bill. What we’re engaged in the discussions with the Scottish Government is about getting the devolution aspects of the Bill right.
“We’ve put in a great deal of work on both sides over the last few months and I think that we are very close to getting agreement on exactly what should happen to each of the 111 issues on the list that was published, how they should be dealt with after we leave the EU where some of those powers and responsibilities will come directly to the Scottish Parliament.
“Some will be dealt with by informal arrangements across the UK and there will be a small number for which legislative mechanisms will be required. I think we’re very close to reaching agreement on exactly how that distribution will take place.”
Mr Russell said the bill in its current form will undermine devolution and cause great damage to the devolved nations.
He told BBC Sunday Politics Scotland: “We are making progress but a great deal now depends on changing the withdrawal Bill. I think the UK government knows that.
“The Bill is in the House of Commons tomorrow and it is absolutely vital that that Bill changes because neither ourselves or the Welsh government can accept the Bill as stands because it will undermine devolution and it will cause great damage to Scotland and to Wales and Northern Ireland.
“So the ball really is in their court, but we are making progress on the frameworks as we’ve always intended to do and we hope to come to a conclusion on it but it will require a change to the Bill.”
He said amendments being discussed today, many drawn up by the Scottish and Welsh governments, would “cure the Bill”.
Opposition parties piled pressure on backbench Scottish Tory MPs to support amendments to the devolution provisions in the Withdrawal Bill. Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said: “Theresa May’s withdrawal bill is fundamentally flawed. It represents an extraordinary power grab from Tory ministers in Westminster and would undermine the Scottish Parliament.
“After the election, Ruth Davidson promised the Scottish Tories would make their case ‘forcefully’ in Westminster.
“If that is the case then she should be telling her MPs to back Labour’s amendments to help protect the devolution settlement and ensure the government does not have a legislative blank cheque.”
Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird added: “Those of us who believe Scotland’s interests lie within the United Kingdom must ensure powers which belong in Edinburgh after Brexit are returned there without delay.”
The SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford called on the 12 backbench Scottish Tory MPs to help “protect devolution”.