The Scottish Government’s Brexit bill passed on Wednesday its first parliamentary hurdle after its general principles were approved by MSPs. The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill is being sped through the Scottish Parliament as emergency legislation amid a row between UK and Scottish ministers over devolved powers returning from Brussels.
Brexit minister Michael Russell said he plans to publish the 25 areas in the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill where the two sides cannot agree as soon as possible. He said a whole range of things were being done to help the chamber consider the SNP administration’s continuity bill in the shortened time and meet objections raised on scrutiny, including changes to the second stage and several committee evidence sessions.
Russell challenged those who questioned proposals in the bill to hand powers to ministers to bring forward amendments, adding: “This is a job that has to be done.”
Russell, who has previously insisted the emergency legislation is a necessary practical step, added: “I believe we should stand up for the rights of this Parliament because that’s standing up for the rights of the people of Scotland. “But I go in to negotiate absolutely determined to get an agreement.”
Conservative Adam Tomkins claimed the Scottish Government has “traded away leverage” to make changes to the UK Government’s bill by bringing forward their alternative as emergency legislation. He said: “The UK Parliament is now free to legislate on EU withdrawal even if we do not give our consent to the Withdrawal Bill. “Far from safeguarding the interests of this parliament, this bill and the way it is to be enacted in haste have completely undercut and betrayed the interests of this parliament.” Tomkins said the continuity bill was a “wrecking legislation” which will cause “legal chaos”.
The Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh has said the bill is out with the competence of Holyrood but the Lord Advocate has argued it is not. Labor’s Neil Findlay said his party gave its “cautious support” to the principles of the legislation but will put forward amendments. “There is no blank cheque for the government on this,” he said. “We have very serious concerns about timetabling, about the rushed nature of the bill, about the limited time for consultation, the rights of people we represent to shape its content, and the powers it seeks to place in the hands of ministers.”
Mr Findlay also said MSPs had been kept “in the dark” over the details of the dispute. “It is unacceptable that we cannot see what is causing this stand-off,” he said. Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie said his party backs the bill, believing it was “vanishingly unlikely” that a deal between the two governments would be reached.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said his party also supports the legislation but he raised concerns about the “sweeping powers” being given to Scottish ministers. Provisions in the bill give the government the ability to ensure that devolved law in Scotland keeps pace with post-withdrawal developments in the EU. Further talks are due to take place on Thursday to end the deadlock between Westminster and Edinburgh and Cardiff on the EU Withdrawal Bill. MSPs backed the Scottish Government’s bill by 94 votes to 30.