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Talks fail to bridge UK-Scotland Brexit bill differences

10 August 2017

Talks between UK and Scottish Government ministers have so far failed to resolve the disagreement over the repatriation of powers from Brussels after the UK leaves the European Union.

After a meeting yesterday between Scotland's Europe Minister Mike Russell and Deputy First Minister John Swinney, for the Scottish Government, and UK First Secretary of State Damian Green along with Scottish Secretary David Mundell, Mr Russell said it remained the Scottish Government's position that " as things stand, we will not recommend to the Scottish Parliament that it gives its consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill".

The bill takes the approach that all powers will transmit to Westminster in the first place, even in otherwise devolved areas such as agriculture, and then be transferred by order approved by the UK and Scottish Parliaments as the UK's post-Brexit situation clarifies.

UK ministers have indicated that this process should begin quickly, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, along with her Welsh counterpart Carwyn Jones, have labelled it a "naked power grab" on the part of the UK Government.

After yesterday's meeting, which he described as a "useful opportunity for an exchange of views", Mr Russell claimed the UK Government now needed to recognise that the bill as drafted needed to be changed to take account of the "very serious concerns" expressed by the Scottish and Welsh Governments. It posed a "direct threat" to the devolution settlement.

He maintained that the Scottish Government was not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas, "but this must be on the basis of agreement among equals, not imposed by Westminster".

Mr Russell stated: “The bill as currently drafted is impractical and unworkable. It is a blatant power grab which would take existing competence over a wide range of devolved policy areas, including aspects of things like agriculture and fishing, away from Holyrood, giving them instead to Westminster and Whitehall.

“That means that unless there are serious and significant changes to the proposed legislation, the strong likelihood is that the Scottish Parliament will vote against the repeal bill.

“To be clear, that would not block Brexit and we have never claimed to have a veto over EU withdrawal. But UK ministers should still be in no doubt – to override a vote of the Scottish Parliament and impose the EU Withdrawal Bill on Scotland would be an extraordinary and unprecedented step to take."

For the UK Government Mr Green commented: "Obviously there are issues on which the UK Government and the Scottish Government place a different emphasis. But we agreed that we need to work first of all on the principles.

"We agree that we want to give more powers at the end of this process to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament and we agree that keeping free trade within the UK to enhance the prosperity in Scotland and the rest of the UK has to be a really important outcome of Brexit."

He insisted that the UK Government's position was "absolutely the opposite of the intention of a power grab", adding: "We want more powers to come to the devolved administrations. That has to be done in the context of keeping free trade within the United Kingdom, but we've agreed more talks in a few weeks' time."

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