Scots, Welsh seek Brexit change to save devolution

The governments of Scotland and Wales said on Tuesday they jointly published amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal Bill) “to prevent the UK Government taking control of devolved policy areas.”

First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones have written to UK Prime Minister Theresa May saying the amendments are necessary “to respect the hard-won devolution settlements.”

Both governments have said they could not recommend giving consent to the withdrawal bill unless it is substantially changed.

The governments said the proposed amendments would achieve the following objectives:

  • Ensure devolved policy areas come back to the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly of Wales on withdrawal from the EU
  • Prevent UK ministers unilaterally changing the Scotland Act and Government of Wales Act
  • Require the agreement of the Scottish Government on necessary changes to current EU law in devolved areas after Brexit
  • Ensure additional restrictions are not placed on devolved ministers compared with UK Government ministers

The Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, Michael Russell, said: “The Scottish Government is opposed to Brexit, in line with the overwhelming views of the people of Scotland.

“However, we must prepare for that eventuality, and in particular make sure that a functioning set of laws are in place after March 2019 when the UK is due to leave.

“We have said we are willing to co-operate with the UK Government but this cannot mean allowing Westminster to drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement.

“At present that is what the EU (Withdrawal) Bill does.

“The UK Government will take control of all policy areas exercised at EU level, whether they are devolved or not.

“That is why the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales have described this bill as a naked power grab.

“We have made it repeatedly clear that we are not opposed in principle to UK-wide arrangements, but devolved policy areas must come back to the Scottish Parliament, where they properly lie, and then we can work towards an agreement.”

Mr Russell has also written to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee with a list of more than 100 policy areas drawn up by the UK Government, which show the potential scale of devolved policy areas that could be controlled by the UK Government if the EU (Withdrawal) Bill is not amended.

Russell added: “The list represents an initial assessment by the UK Government of where it believes that EU competences intersect with devolution and which therefore would be affected by the restrictions in the Bill.

“We were taken aback by the size of the list that was presented to us, but it shows the scale of what is at stake.

“They represent control over agriculture, fisheries, environmental regulation, relations between Scotland’s independent legal system and our European counterparts, State Aid and many more.

“It is perfectly possible for UK-wide frameworks to be agreed, but they must not be imposed by the UK Government with no respect for the founding principles of the devolution settlement.”

The UK’s First Secretary of State Damian Green MP commented on the list of powers released by the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

Green said: “The lists which the UK Government shared with the Scottish and Welsh Governments several weeks ago contains 111 and 64 policy areas respectively that are currently controlled by the EU which are now coming back to the UK.

“We want to continue to work with the Scottish and Welsh Governments to make sure we are all ready to take on these new responsibilities when we leave the EU.

“The important thing now is to work our way through these lists and find the areas where we will need to maintain a common UK or GB approach, as well as those areas where it will make sense to transfer powers direct to the devolved governments.

“When it is better to devolve then that is what we will do, as we have done for the last 20 years.

“The Repeal Bill aims to maximise certainty for individuals and businesses as we leave the EU. The UK Government stands ready to listen to those who offer improvements to the Bill – but we will do nothing that risks undermining the benefits of the UK.

“Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast will receive more decision making powers as a result of this process.

“But the UK Government will not risk our internal UK market, or make life more difficult or more expensive for UK companies, workers or consumers.

“We all observe the same broad EU rules now.

“Doing things four different ways – in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will not be the best way if it adds costs to companies and customers across the UK.

“I hope and expect that we can make progress in the talks that are planned for the coming week.”