The UK government said its senior law officers, the Attorney General and the Advocate General for Scotland, are referring EU exit legislation passed in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments to the Supreme Court.
They are asking for a ruling on whether the legislation “is constitutional, and properly within devolved legislative powers.”
The Scottish and Welsh parliaments passed the bills in an effort to ensure they keep all their current powers if the UK leaves the European Union, making the argument that the UK parliament’s Brexit legislation risks eroding those powers.
Powers currently devolved to Scotland and Wales including agriculture, fisheries and food standards — administered from Brussels — will go back to the UK parliament if the UK leaves the EU.
The Scottish and Welsh parliaments suspect a power grab by the UK government to keep those powers in London — and are pressing for changes to the UK’s Brexit legislation to stop that from happening.
The bills passed last month are intended to act as a backstop should Scotland and Wales not secure the changes.
Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP said: “This legislation risks creating serious legal uncertainty for individuals and businesses as we leave the EU.
“This reference is a protective measure which we are taking in the public interest.
“The (UK) government very much hopes this issue will be resolved without the need to continue with this litigation.”
The two bills — the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill, and the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Bill — passed through the Scottish and Welsh parliaments on March 21.
“The reference is made to the UK Supreme Court under powers conferred by the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006, which provide the Law Officers with discretion to ask the Supreme Court to consider whether legislation passed by the devolved legislatures is within their respective legislative competence,” said the UK government.
“These powers allow the Law Officers to fulfil their unique constitutional duties to uphold the rule of law and the boundaries of the devolution settlements.
“The European Union (Wales) Bill and the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill cover very similar ground to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill currently before (the UK) Parliament but with significant differences in terms of the EU law that is retained and the processes by which it can be amended.
“To leave these pieces of legislation on the statute book would create very significant legal uncertainty as to how the law would operate.”
The Scottish government’s Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, Michael Russell, reiterated that Scottish Ministers are satisfied that the Continuity Bill is within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.
“The Continuity Bill was passed by 95 votes to 32 in the Scottish Parliament, that is an overwhelming majority,” said Russell.
“Scottish Ministers are satisfied that the Bill is within legislative competence.
“The Lord Advocate will be arguing in the Supreme Court that it is within the powers of the Scottish Parliament to prepare for the consequences for devolved matters of UK withdrawal from the European Union.
“Our Continuity Bill is an important and necessary piece of legislation to prepare Scotland’s laws for Brexit while protecting the powers of the Scottish Parliament that people voted for.
“The Scottish Government has made clear it cannot recommend the Scottish Parliament consent to the Withdrawal Bill in its current form.
“Alongside the Welsh Government, we have always said our preference would be to reach an agreement with the UK Government to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to respect the powers of the devolved administrations and both Governments are ready to continue meaningful talks to further discuss potential solutions.
“While the Scottish Government is not opposed to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas when these are in Scotland’s interests, this must only happen with the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.”