U.K. Fails to Woo Scotland With Extra Powers After Brexit

  • Government wants to sign deal with Scotland, says May deputy
  • Scottish government says backing Brexit bill ‘inconceivable’

May’s Cabinet Split Three Ways Over Brexit

The U.K. government aims to sign a deal with Scotland giving it extra powers before the European Union repeal bill comes into force, to stave off a confrontation with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s semi-autonomous administration.

The plan aims to defuse tensions between the two governments over the repeal bill, which transfers European Union statute into British law. Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy, Damian Green told newspapers including the Guardian at a briefing on Thursday that talks on new Scottish powers were happening “in parallel” with Brexit. A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office confirmed the remarks.

Green’s offer to Scotland came after a meeting between U.K. and Scottish government officials in Edinburgh on Wednesday over the repatriation of powers from the EU failed to reach an agreement. The Scottish Government wasn’t swayed, saying in an email that it was “inconceivable” it would support the repeal bill in its current form.

“We have made our position crystal clear to U.K. ministers, who should be in no doubt whatsoever that we will not recommend that the Scottish Parliament gives consent to the bill as it stands,” the Scottish Government’s minister in charge of talks with the central U.K. government, Michael Russell, said in the statement. “As drafted, the proposals undermine the founding principles of devolution and amount to a power grab: we will not accept that.”

‘Power Grab’

The dispute over the bill -- which leaders of the Scottish and Welsh governments rejected last month -- threatens to cause a constitutional crisis for May’s already weakened administration. When Brexit Secretary David Davis introduced the bill in Parliament last month, Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart, Carwyn Jones, issued a joint statement calling it “a naked power grab” and “an attack on the founding principles of devolution.”

Lawmakers will debate the bill in Parliament in the fall, with amendments likely to be proposed by the SNP, Parliament’s third-biggest party, and the main opposition Labour Party.

Scotland voted to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has since called on the U.K. government to prioritize continued access to the single market. 

The Scottish government says the EU withdrawal bill would see Westminster take control of significant areas of devolved policy, like farming, environmental protection and control of the seas. Its opinion counts because May is seeking consent from the legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to approve the bill. While she’s not bound by their decision, there are no precedents for the central government ignoring such a refusal.

“There are issues on which the U.K. and Scottish governments place a different emphasis, but we agreed that we need to work on the principles on which we’ll engage," Green said in a statement after the meeting. "We were also united on the aim that the Scottish Parliament has more powers at the end of this process," he adding, saying he was "confident" they’ll be able to "reassure the Scottish Government further of our good faith on these matters."

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