Alex Salmond has warned of a looming “constitutional crisis” facing the UK government as the Supreme Court begins hearing a case to decide what say parliamentarians at Westminster and Holyrood should get on triggering Brexit.
Mr Salmond said if the Scottish Government’s intervention in the case is successful and MSPs get the right to vote on whether to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would put Nicola Sturgeon in an “incredibly powerful position” to secure a favourable Brexit deal for Scotland.
He warned UK ministers not to ignore a Scottish Parliament vote against triggering the start of the two-year Brexit negotiation process, saying it would pit Westminster against Holyrood in an unprecedented crisis for the Union.
Eleven judges at the Supreme Court will begin hearing an appeal brought by the UK government against a High Court ruling in October that MPs must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered.
Lord Advocate James Woolfe is expected to begin arguing the Scottish Government’s intervention on Wednesday, which if successful could mean a vote on a legislative consent motion at Holyrood. However, consent for legislation passed on reserved matters at Westminster is advisory, and could be dismissed by the UK government.
On a visit to Scotland last week, Chancellor Philip Hammond dismissed calls from Ms Sturgeon for a separate Brexit deal for Scotland as “not a realistic prospect”, and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the First Minister’s threat of a second referendum on independence had given her “very little leverage”.
In an interview with the BBC yesterday, Mr Salmond said: “If the Supreme Court decided that there is to be a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament, then I think we could assume that Philip Hammond would beat a road back to Edinburgh and adopt an altogether different tone than the one he adopted this week.
“It would put the Scottish Parliament, and in particular Nicola Sturgeon, in an incredibly powerful position.”
He added that if the Scottish Parliament voted against the motion, Mr Salmond said this “would certainly be a constitutional crisis that would have to be resolved”.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “This is Alex Salmond confirming what we already knew.
“The SNP is quite happy with constitutional upheaval so long as it forwards its separation goals. This is a shameless admission, and perhaps explains why the SNP didn’t bother campaigning hard during the EU referendum.”
Mr Rennie said: “Alex Salmond’s comments confirm that the SNP are only using the European issue to advance independence.
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“It shows the SNP will say and do anything to advance independence even if it means constitutional, economic and social turmoil.”
Even if the Supreme Court dismisses the appeal but fails to back the Scottish Government’s intervention, Mr Salmond raised the prospect of consent for Article 50 being bogged down in the Commons by “50 or 100” amendments.
Ministers are understood to be drafting a tightly-worded, one-line bill on Article 50 to avoid wrecking amendments. However, Labour has said it intends to attach a demand that the UK remain in the European single market and retain EU workplace and environmental protections in Brexit talks.
There was also a warning to ministers yesterday from SNP MP Pete Wishart that any use regulations on English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) to exclude Scottish MPs from any votes on Brexit would be “unacceptable”.
Mr Wishart was responding to a report from a Lords committee that suggested Brexit could provide a “stress test” for EVEL, which has so far only been applied in a handful of minor cases. A review of the rules, introduced after the 2014 independence referendum, is now under way. There was embarrassment for the government after a letter from the head of the civil service demanding an end to “corrosive” leaks on Brexit was itself leaked to a newspaper.
Sir Jeremy Heywood warned civil servants they face dismissal even if the information they pass on is not sensitive, and announced a review of security arrangements.