Sturgeon snubbed: Westminster declines Holyrood request for post-Brexit Bill grilling

Holyrood’s Constitution Secretary Michael Russell gave evidence to the Scottish Government’s Finance and Constitution Committee on the controversial bill which the SNP see as a “power grab by Westminster”. Business Secretary Alok Sharma published the White Paper earlier this month which will see measures which were previously managed by the EU return to the UK at the end of the year when the Brexit transition period expires.

But he gave just 30 minutes notice ahead of the meeting stating that he wouldn’t be able to give evidence.

The 160 policy areas including animal welfare, public procurement rules and environmental regulations will now go to one or more of the devolved administrations.

UK ministers have said the return of powers to the UK from Brussels will see the Northern Ireland administration receive responsibility in 157 of the 160 areas, Scotland in 111 and Wales in 70.

But speaking today, Mr Russell said the bill was an “outrageous power grab and it is a major weakening of devolution”.

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Speaking to the Committee today, SNP MSP Bruce Crawford, convenor of the committee, said: “The Committee issued an invitation to UK Government Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

“But he heard just this morning that the Secretary of State has declined our invitation.

“It is very disappointing particularly given the complexities and timescales involved and responses being required within four weeks.”

Speaking at the meeting today, Mr Russell, said: “This paper is about power, it is designed to extend the power of the UK government in a number of areas.

“In those areas, there is a clear devolved responsibility.

“What it is endeavouring to do to take power away from the devolved administrations and concentrating in its own (Westminster’s) hands.

“There is in my view, no threat to trade within these islands.

“What it is about is making sure that the decisions the UK government reach cannot be contradicted or gained by the policy decisions of the devolved administrations which are thereby right.”

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He argued the proposed legislation considers Westminster to be sovereign in trade and regulation disputes stressing that Westminster “have a veto on everything”.

He told MSPs the Scottish Government will continue to challenge the Bill and did not rule out legal action to challenge the plans.

He concluded: “And I do not rule out other action up to and including legal.

“Because this is an outrageous power grab and it is a major weakening of devolution and it should not be permitted to take place.”

MSP Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-leader, agreed and said: “The Tory Government’s internal market proposals would strip the Scottish Parliament of its legislative power, handing a veto on any Scottish Parliament Bill to unelected Whitehall bureaucrats.

“The plan hatched by Alok Sharma would destroy the devolution settlement as we know it and the fact that UK Ministers won’t even discuss the Bill with MSPs says it all about their contempt for Scotland.”

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said that Scotland would be four times worse off than the rest of the UK if they didn’t have the Bill. 

He added: “Without these necessary reforms, the way we trade goods and services between the home nations could be seriously impacted, harming the way we do business within our own borders.”

 

A UK Government spokesperson said in response: “The proposals on which we are consulting will ensure the free flow of goods and services across every part of the UK, while upholding the devolution settlement.

“This will give the devolved administrations power over more issues than they have ever had before, without removing any of their current powers. 

“Many businesses depend on trade with the home nations more than any other partner. In Scotland, sales of produce to the rest of the UK are worth £51.2 billion per year – accounting for over 60 per cent of all exports.

“Powers that are currently under the control of the EU  will be transferred to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is a power surge for devolution and Mr Russell has yet to name a single power that will be removed from Holyrood.”

 

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