The SNP will mount a parliamentary “guerilla” campaign on Westminster after they dramatically walked out of the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions over an alleged devolution “power grab”.
Sources said arcane parliamentary procedure would be called on again in order to frustrate Brexit legislation, after the Nationalists nearly derailed the session in protest over the lack of debate on Brexit’s constitutional impact.
Nationalists were accused of staging a pre-planned “stunt” as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledged it would “no longer be business as usual”.
There was widespread anger among opposition MPs from Scotland on Tuesday when debate on amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill affecting devolution was squeezed to just 15 minutes, with only the government minister able to deliver a speech. Passage of the amendments marks the first time Westminster has overruled the Scottish Parliament, which has refused consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill.
In chaotic scenes yesterday, SNP MPs followed Ian Blackford out of the chamber en masse after the Commons Speaker John Bercow ejected the group’s leader.
Mr Blackford used standing orders of the House of Commons to demand an emergency debate in private on Westminster’s retention of 24 devolved powers after Brexit.
He refused to back down when Mr Bercow would not hold an immediate vote on the SNP MP’s demand, leading to his suspension from Parliament for the rest of the day. Leading SNP MPs out of Westminster in the moments following his ejection, Mr Blackford told journalists that from now on, “normal courtesies will not take place”.
Speaking later outside Parliament, he said: “The power grab has now in effect happened. We have the outrageous situation that Scottish Members of Parliament have been unable to debate.”
Mr Blackford added: “I met with a representative of the UK government this morning, and I have told them that things have changed.
“We will do what we can as a parliamentary group to hold them to account, and use parliamentary procedures to best effect. The endgame is to make sure that the government recognise that they can’t get away with what they’re doing to the people of Scotland.”
Had a private session been agreed, it would have wrecked the government’s timetable for the day. A party source said parliament’s rule book, Erskine May, was being trawled for similar “guerilla tactics”. Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell had already threatened to withdrawal from technical discussions with UK counterparts on how new powers would be shared after leaving the EU.
The First Minister posted on social media that she was “right behind” her party’s MPs, claiming Scotland and the Scottish Parliament “are being treated with contempt by Westminster and it needs to be highlighted”.
However, Scottish Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs condemned the walk-out as a “stunt”, and said Mr Blackford had spoiled his chance of securing an emergency debate on devolution in the coming days.
An application lodged by the SNP yesterday morning could not be moved because of the suspension, and four Nationalist MPs gave up their chance to question the Prime Minister. His suspension also meant that Mr Blackford could not take part in the second day of debate on Lords amendments to the Withdrawal Bill, which included votes on the UK’s membership of the EU single market and customs union.
Conservative MP Douglas Ross condemned the SNP going down a “pathetic theatrical route”, and Labour’s Ian Murray said it was “time for grown-up politics, not manufactured grievances”.
He said: “This ridiculous stunt may grab headlines, but its impact demonstrates just how little the SNP really cares about stopping the Tories’ reckless hard Brexit.
“There are knife-edge votes in the Commons, particularly on our future relationship with the customs union, and now Ian Blackford has increased the chances of Theresa May and the Brexiteers getting away with it because he has been banned from voting.”
Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: “They pulled a political stunt rather than speak up for the people of Scotland. They abandoned Scotland for a political stunt to win them points.”
Mr Bercow appeared to join in criticism of the SNP, telling MPs: “If people absent themselves when they have the opportunity to make these applications, and I really do think it would be a good thing if we brought to a close the operation of stunts, and focused instead on the proper discharge of our responsibilities in this place.”
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Tory MPs also ridiculed the SNP on social media after a script from Tuesday’s debate was found, listing points of order for Nationalists to raise in protest, including a choice of whether to voice “outrage / disappointment”.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell admitted that “the fact that there was a shorter time to debate that issue than anybody would have liked isn’t a good optic”, but insisted the EU Withdrawal Bill “does not in any way undermine or disrespect the existing devolution settlement”.
The Scottish Secretary will deliver a Commons statement today giving MPs the chance to debate Brexit and devolution.
Facing calls from the SNP for his resignation, Mr Mundell said: “I’m not responsible ultimately for how the House of Commons operates, or its procedures. I am, however, disappointed that we didn’t have more time for the debate.
“There is nothing the SNP would like more than to have a process row rather than talk about the substance – which is why they’ve chosen this stunt today, rather than to have the debate that through parliamentary channels was being organised.”
The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, Kirsty Blackman, said Mr Mundell’s statement “must be his resignation”.
“He is ignored and sidelined at Westminster and he is too scared to appear at Holyrood … He is letting us all down by failing to lift a finger to protect our national interests. He must go.”
The SNP claimed it had gained 1,100 new members in the hours after the clash at Prime Minister’s Questions.