MPs urge UK Government to clarify Brexit Bill devolution plans

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Urgent action is needed to end the stalemate between the UK Government and devolved administrations over the EU Withdrawal Bill, a committee of MPs has said.

Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee issued the call before the House of Commons considers the devolution sections of the crucial Brexit legislation.

The report follows talks between Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May at 10 Downing Street during which Scotland’s First Minister reiterated that the Bill was not acceptable in its current form.

Both the Scottish and Welsh administrations have branded the legislation – which has begun its committee stage in the House of Commons – a ”power grab” as it would return responsibilities in devolved areas such as agriculture from Brussels to London.

A report from the committee urges the UK Government to agree which powers will be subject to common UK frameworks and which will be devolved directly to the Scottish Parliament, and publish these in time for the final Commons stage of the Bill.

The report calls on UK ministers to work with the devolved administrations to agree common UK frameworks and any intergovernmental machinery needed to support them.

The committee also recommended that UK ministers seek the consent of Scottish ministers before exercising delegated powers in devolved areas of responsibility.

SNP chairman Pete Wishart said: “We have heard serious concerns about the impact the EU (Withdrawal) Bill could have on Scotland’s devolution settlement.

“The Scottish Government has been clear that it cannot recommend that the Scottish Parliament gives its consent to the Bill as it is currently drafted, but we were encouraged by the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary’s desire to resolve outstanding issues, and the level of agreement between the two ministers on many areas.

“We welcome the efforts which are being undertaken by both sides to achieve this.

“That said, we believe the Government needs to take urgent action to improve the Bill and provide greater clarity about the implications of this legislation for Scotland’s devolution settlement.

“Central to our recommendations is the importance of agreeing a way forward with the devolved administrations, and securing consent in relation to future UK-wide frameworks.”

Scotland’s Brexit minister Michael Russell said: “I welcome the committee’s conclusion that any common frameworks must not be imposed by the UK Government but should be agreed between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, crucially as equal partners.

“Indeed the UK Government itself has now signed up to principles for discussing UK frameworks that respect the devolution settlement.

“As we have repeatedly said, we cannot recommend that the Scottish Parliament gives consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill as currently drafted.

“I stand ready to have further discussions with the UK Government and other administrations as we try to find an acceptable way forward that respects devolution.”

A UK Government spokesman said: “We have received the report and will respond in due course. This Bill delivers certainty for all parts of the UK, including Scotland as we prepare to leave the EU.

“We are currently discussing with the devolved administrations where common frameworks are and are not needed. We are clear that we will not need frameworks in all of the EU areas and the devolved administrations will get more powers from this process.

“Devolution clauses will be debated fully on later days of Committee Stage. We will listen to all of those who offer improvements to the Bill, but we will not do anything that risks undermining the benefits of the UK, such as its internal market.”