Scottish Government confirms plans to block EU Withdrawal Bill

Nicola Sturgeon lodges memorandum asking parliament to reject EU repeal bill

FOLLOWING a successful vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill in the House of Commons on Monday (11 September), the Scottish Government has lodged a memorandum in the Scottish Parliament advising MSPs to block the bill.

The Scottish Government position has received cross party support from Scottish Labour, Scottish Greens and the Liberal Democrats.

The EU Withdrawal Bill, which will now pass to the committee stage in the UK Parliament, must be consented to by the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Irish Assemblies, because of its impact on the administrations and their devolved powers.

A legislative consent memorandum was lodged by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Tuesday (12 September) on behalf of the Scottish Government, confirming its decision to recommend that the Scottish Parliament do not grant consent to the bill as it stands.

“It proposes to alter the fundamental principle of devolution as approved by three quarters of the Scottish people." Mike Russell MSP

Mike Russell MSP, the Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, explained the decision in parliament on Tuesday. Russell recalled the celebration of the anniversary of devolution on 11 September, when people united across parties to ”try and create a better future for Scotland”, and asked that MSPs “show the same unity in defending the parliament” today.

Russell said: “In the EU Withdrawal Bill, the UK Government proposes that it should, for the first time since 1999, take powers for and to itself in relation to devolved policy areas in Scotland. 

“It proposes to alter, permanently, the fundamental principle of devolution as approved by three quarters of the Scottish people in that referendum 20 years ago - the principle that says that what is not reserved, is devolved.”

“It is not a logical, or essential, part of any Withdrawal Bill that new limitations are placed on the Scottish Parliament’s powers, on the National Assembly for Wales’s powers, or on the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly. But that is what this Bill does.”

Russell noted that a similar motion was being lodged in the Welsh Assembly by the Welsh Government, due to the same objections to the bill. Russell was keen to point out that the question at hand was not “whether we should leave the European Union”. 

"This Bill is not an opportunity to veto Brexit: such a legal power does not exist." Mike Russell MSP

Russell said: “The position of this government and indeed the position of the people of Scotland expressed in last year’s referendum is clear on that matter.  We don’t want to leave.  This Bill is not an opportunity to veto Brexit: such a legal power does not exist.”

In order for the Scottish Government to recommend that consent be given to the EU Withdrawal Bill, Russell explained, the UK Government “must make the necessary changes” to the bill. This would include removing the “unnecessary new limits” on devolved powers, as well as ensuring the Scottish Parliament be given an “appropriate role in holding to account their governments”.

The latter part of this recommendation relates to criticisms of the bill as sidestepping parliamentary procedures by conferring unprecedented and wide reaching powers to government ministers – emphasising the Scottish Government’s expressed intention to work cooperatively with parliament.  

Finally, Russell called on MSPs who “have influence with the UK Government” to push for these amendments to be made, and chastised those who support the UK Government in actions “which go directly against 20 years of the settled will of the Scottish people”.  

Following the speech in parliament, Scottish Labour’s Europe spokesperson, Lewis Macdonald, said: “Labour will not grant legislative consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill, in its current form.

"[The] bill is dangerous and undemocratic, giving UK government ministers powers invented for and by a 16th century tyrant king." Ross Greer MSP

“It represents a Tory power grab that concentrates power in the hands of ministers and drives a coach and horses  through the devolution settlement delivered by Labour in 1999.

“This is a time for cool heads and grown up politics. Labour will seek to amend the Bill at Westminster to support devolution. We need a guarantee from the SNP that it will support those amendments.”

Ross Greer MSP, the Scottish Greens’ external affairs spokesperson, also described the bill as a “power grab” and said that the Conservative government was “hostile to Scotland”.

Green said: “Twenty years ago, almost to the day, that same Conservative party stood against the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people when they opposed re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Now they are attempting to take devolution backwards, using a Brexit vote, which Scotland of course rejected, as their excuse.

"Their bill is dangerous and undemocratic, giving UK government ministers powers invented for and by a 16th century tyrant king. They would gain the ability to go as far as removing the rights of citizens resident in this country without so much as a vote in parliament. The Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government should hold to a higher standard.”

READ MORE: Explainer: Everything you need to know about the EU Withdrawal Bill

Greer also warned that powers which may be gained by the Scottish Government should be “used in a transparent and accountable manner with the collective agreement of the Scottish Parliament”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat European spokesperson Tavish Scott MSP was slighty more ambiguous in his remarks, but said: "Parliament should expect a guarantee from the UK Government that everything that is devolved remains devolved. We will work with the Scottish Government on strengthening not weakening the Scottish Parliament.

"So the changes to the UK Government’s proposed law need to be achieved. As do agreed frameworks across such matters as fisheries and agriculture.

"The Scottish Government say that the UK Government are using the process of Brexit as a cover for taking powers. I would not give them the credit for such a constitutional conspiracy.

“The reality is that they cannot agree their Brexit negotiating position with the EU. Relations with Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are low down the priority list of this shambolic UK Government."

Picture courtesy of First Minister of Scotland

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