Brexit Britain was on the brink of constitutional chaos last night after the Scottish and Welsh governments moved to block a devolution “power grab” by Westminster.
SNP ministers entered uncharted waters as they published their own version of the EU Continuity Bill – despite Holyrood’s presiding officer ruling that it was not legislatively competent.
The bill will be put on an “emergency” timetable and reflects similar draft legislation going through Westminster.
Both bills in Edinburgh and London transfer EU laws in force in the UK onto domestic statute books on the day Britain stops being part of the bloc, to ensure there are no gaps in legislation.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the UK version represents a “power grab” because some devolved powers currently controlled by Brussels, including those on agriculture and fisheries, will revert back to Westminster.
The UK Government’s position is that the London parliament should keep hold of some of the 111 returning powers, while UK-wide rules and regulations are drawn up to protect the British single market.
The Scottish Government said it would press ahead with its new Bill despite the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh ruling that it was not legislatively competent – the first time ministers would have taken such action.
Brexit Minister Mike Russell said that Scotland’s top law officer, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, was “satisfied” that the Bill is within the legislative competence, and the Welsh Assembly’s presiding officer had done so for its bill.
Mr Russell added: “We have offered to work with the UK Government on UK-wide legislation to do this job but they are insisting on taking control of devolved powers without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.
“We could never recommend giving consent to such a law and therefore we must make our own preparations in devolved areas to provide certainty and to protect devolution.
“If the UK Government drops its power grab then it may still be possible to reach agreement, in which case we would not need to proceed with the Continuity Bill.”
Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins described the Scottish Government’s Bill as “unwelcome and unnecessary”.
But Labour’s Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said the blame for the “ridiculous” situation lay firmly with the Conservatives.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: “We have made a considerable offer to the devolved administrations on amending the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and look forward to further constructive talks.”