Scottish Parliament poised to reject EU Withdrawal Bill amid devolution row

Talks between UK and Scottish governments have been unable to reach agreement on who will be given powers returning from Brussels

Scottish Government Brexit minister Michael Russell. Credit: Scottish Parliament

By Nicholas Mairs

15 May 2018

The Scottish Parliament is expected to refuse consent to the UK government’s main Brexit bill later today as the deadlock over how to handle powers returning to the UK after Brexit continues.

SNP, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MSPs are all expected to vote against backing the EU Withdrawal Bill, with only the Conservatives set to offer their support.

Senior figures from the Scottish Government have repeatedly expressed concerns that the UK government will take control of devolved powers following Brexit in areas formally devolved but in practice regulated by EU law, such as fisheries, environment, agriculture, animal welfare and aspects of public health and transport.


Talks between the Scottish Government and Cabinet Office ministers Damian Green and David Lidington have been going on for months to reach a resolution on devolved powers.

Lidington has set out details of 24 areas he said would need to come under Westminster control immediately after the UK leaves the EU to avoid short-term confusion in areas such as food hygiene, chemicals and animal welfare, which the Scottish Government says is unacceptable.

The Scottish Parliament's refusal to back the bill through a legislative consent motion will not legally prevent ministers from pressing ahead, and the lack of an agreement in Scotland comes after a deal was reached between Westminster and the Welsh Government last month. Welsh finance secretary Mark Drakeford said "this is a deal we can work with which has required compromise on both sides", and the Welsh Assembly is expected to approve the agreement today.

However, Scottish Government Brexit minister Michael Russell has put forward a motion stating that Holyrood will refuse permission for the changes on the grounds it would “constrain the legislative and executive competence of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government”.

While the Scottish Parliament's refusal to back the bill will not legally prevent ministers from pressing ahead, it will increase the tensions of the impact of Brexit on devolved settlements across the UK.

Russell added that agreement could still be reached, however, if the UK removed the clause from the bill which automatically transfers those new powers to Westminster.

Speaking ahead of the debate and vote, Russell said: “This is not some abstract issue - this covers key policy areas such as farming, food and drink, fisheries and protecting the environment.

“I have said time and again it is unacceptable that the legislation gives the UK Government the power to ban the Scottish Parliament from legislating on devolved areas for up to seven years without the Parliament’s consent.

“That is why I must recommend the Scottish Parliament votes against accepting the bill in its current form.”

Read the most recent articles written by Nicholas Mairs - EU leaders agree to 31 January Brexit extension

Share this page