The Scottish Parliament is today expected to reject the UK government’s Brexit Bill amid concerns of a “power grab”, plunging devolution into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
SNP, Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrat MSPs are all poised to vote against a legislative consent motion (LCM) at Holyrood over the handling of the return of powers from Brussels after Brexit.
The concerns centre on 24 key controls, in areas including farming and fishing, which will go to Westminster when they should rest at Holyrood in line with the devolution settlement. UK ministers say this needed to ensure the integrity of the UK single market and ensure smooth UK-wide frameworks in areas like food standards.
Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell said: “The Scottish Parliament has a powerful opportunity to unite to protect the powers of devolution and make it clear we do not accept the attempt to constrain the powers of the Scottish Parliament as it stands in the current EU Withdrawal Bill.
“This is not some abstract issue – this covers key policy areas such as farming, food and drink, fisheries and protecting the environment. I have said time and again it is unacceptable that the legislation gives the UK government the power to ban the Scottish Parliament from legislating on devolved areas for up to seven years without the parliament’s consent.”
Speaking at a Q&A event in London yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said the UK will prove it can’t be trusted with devolved powers after Brexit if it “carries on regardless” when the Scottish Parliament rejects the EU Withdrawal Bill today.
The First Minister said she would be “astonished” if MSPs do not refuse legislative consent for the bill.
“Much of the progress is intended to be in an agreement and we are being asked to take on trust quite a lot,” she said. “It strikes me that if the UK government decides to carry on regardless, then we were right not to take this on trust.” The First Minister told a business audience any kind of Brexit deal would advance the case for a second Scottish independence referendum, adding that she doesn’t believe independence “will ever be off the table until it’s a reality”.
The Tories have accused the SNP of using the row to agitate for independence. Tory constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said: “It’s profoundly regrettable that we don’t have a deal in Scotland to allow us to move on. The blame for that lies entirely with the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon has refused to compromise. It’s not in Scotland’s interests that the SNP prefers picking fights to making a deal.”
And he made a late appeal to Labour and Liberal Democrat MSPs to back the LCM.
But Labour Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said his party delivered the Scottish Parliament and is determined to “defend devolution”.
Mr Findlay said: “The problems with clause 15, formally clause 11, mean that Labour will vote against the principle of legislative consent for the EU Withdrawal Bill at Holyrood today.
“The Tories’ shambolic handling of this key area for Scotland is pushing the case towards the Supreme Court.”
Lib Dem Brexit Spokesman Tavish Scott added: “Liberal Democrat MSPs do not believe that the Scottish Parliament should give consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill.”
Greens Co-convenor Patrick Harvie urged MSPs to “stand together”: “Green MSPs will not consent to the UK government’s assault on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.”
The UK government can press ahead with the bill even if Holyrood rejects it. But the legislation won’t be passed at Westminster until later this summer.