MSPs: EU Withdrawal Bill 'incompatible with devolution'

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Mr Mundell had previously told MSPs the amendments would be introduced in the Commons

Promised changes to the UK government’s EU Withdrawal Bill that would reflect concerns over its impact on devolution will be delayed, it has emerged.

Scottish Secretary David Mundell told MPs last month that the amendments would happen during next week’s report stage in the House of Commons.

However, UK government sources say that the changes will now happen when the bill reaches the House of Lords.

But they stressed that they remained committed to amending the bill.

It has been reported that the resignation of Damian Green – who had been leading talks with the devolved administrations – from his Cabinet Office post had caused the timetable to slip.

The Scottish government has previously said it would not put the legislation to a consent vote in the Scottish Parliament unless changes are made.

Its Brexit minister, Mike Russell, told Holyrood that the UK government’s failure to introduce the amendments in the House of Commons was “very regrettable” and “unacceptable”, but said that talks over the bill would continue.

He added: “We have spent six months discussing bringing forward this amendment, and no amendment has been brought forward.”

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins said he too was “deeply frustrated and disappointed” that the amendments had not been made yet, and that he had been led to believe the bill would have been changed by now.

He also said it was “imperative” the legislation was passed at Westminster with the Scottish Parliament’s consent.

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A series of summits between ministers from around the UK have failed to resolve the impasse over post-Brexit powers

The UK and Scottish governments are locked in a dispute over what will happen to powers which are currently not reserved to Westminster, but which are exercised from Brussels.

UK ministers want them all returned to Westminster in the first instance, before some are devolved and some woven into UK-wide frameworks – but Scottish and Welsh ministers term this a “power grab”.

In a report published on Tuesday, Holyrood’s constitution committee – which includes Conservative MSPs – backed the Scottish government’s stance, and said the bill was currently “incompatible with devolution”.

The argument over the EU Withdrawal Bill focuses on Clause 11, which deals directly with the devolved administrations and the powers coming back from Brussels post-Brexit.

The clause has been attacked by groups including the Scottish government, SNP MPs at Westminster and even Scottish Conservative MPs, one of whom described it as “not fit for purpose”.

‘Replaced or removed’

MSPs on the constitution committee unanimously added their weight to this, saying that “Clause 11, as currently drafted, is incompatible with the devolution settlement in Scotland”.

They said the committee “will not be in a position to recommend legislative consent for the bill unless Clause 11 is replaced or removed”, adding that resolving this should be “a matter of priority” for the UK government.

Committee convener Bruce Crawford said that in its present form, the bill “represents a fundamental shift in the structure of devolution in Scotland”.

But Mr Tomkins, the deputy convener of the committee, welcomed the “progress that has been made” in “developing an approach to agreeing common UK frameworks” for returning powers.

And he said members “welcome the UK government’s commitment to respect the devolution settlement”.

Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell – who welcomed the committee’s report – has said the government is looking at the possibility of introducing its own “continuity” legislation, should it fail to come to an agreement over the UK bill.

The committee said this approach would result in “a reduced timetable for parliamentary scrutiny”, urging the government to engage in “early discussions” with the parliament about this.

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Opposition party leaders met at Westminster to talks about Brexit on Tuesday morning – with an empty chair for Jeremy Corbyn

The Scottish and Welsh governments jointly put forward potential amendments to the Withdrawal Bill during the early part of its progress through Westminster, but saw them rejected by MPs.

However, Mr Mundell told MPs on 6 December that “the bill will be amended”, later clarifying that this would “happen on report”.

A UK government spokeswoman said: “We want the whole of the UK to come together in support of this legislation, which is crucial to delivering the outcome of the referendum. Every part of the United Kingdom needs a functioning statute book, and that applies as much to Scotland as elsewhere.

“As the committee has acknowledged, we have made good progress in our discussions with the Scottish government on common frameworks and we look forward to making significant further progress over the coming months.”

Meanwhile, MSPs are debating the Brexit process and the position of the remaining EU member states on their first day back after the festive recess.

They are discussing evidence gathered by the culture, tourism, Europe and external relations committee on the Brexit process, which began with the triggering of Article 50 in March 2016.

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