The legislation to formally remove the UK from the European Union will not be changed by Westminster, a senior member of Theresa May’s Cabinet has said despite threats from SNP ministers to refuse consent for the Bill as it stands.
Damian Green, the First Secretary of State, made clear the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not be altered to set out which powers returning to the UK from Brussels would be devolved to Holyrood.
He said: “Putting details in primary legislation is often not wise because if you ever want to change it then you have to pass another Bill, which takes many months.”
While Mr Green said talks between the UK and Scottish governments over who should take control of areas currently governed by Brussels could take months, he said the “sensible position” would be for them to reach a deal.
But Scottish Government ministers claim the Bill is a “blatant power grab” by Westminster, insisting they will not be able to recommend that the Scottish Parliament grants it legislative consent in its current form.
That would not halt the EU withdrawal, but Scottish Brexit Minister Mike Russell has already warned that if the Tories press ahead with the Bill without Holyrood’s formal approval it would be an “extraordinary and unprecedented step to take”.
Mr Green and Mr Russell held talks in Edinburgh on Wednesday, along with Scottish Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Scottish Secretary David Mundell.
Mr Russell was later adamant that “unless there are serious and significant changes to the proposed legislation, the strong likelihood is that the Scottish Parliament will vote against the repeal Bill”.
Mr Green told reporters in Edinburgh on Thursday: “I’m not saying that the Bill will be changed, we’ve got the second reading debate next month and we expect that to go through, we will argue our case for the Bill.”
He insisted the issue of where powers will lie after Brexit is not being determined “by diktat” but is instead happening by agreement.
“That was the point of the talks that started yesterday,” Mr Green said.
“We want to agree on which powers are best exercised where, it’s clear of huge benefit of people in Scotland and the rest of the UK is a free market inside the United Kingdom, I don’t think anyone wants to disrupt trade and business inside the United Kingdom, so we have to avoid that.
“So in some cases there will need to be a UK-wide framework. But with that very large caveat what we’re seeking to do is to ensure that as fast as possible we can pass through powers that are properly exercised in Scotland to Scotland.”
He said the situation is a “long way away” from one where Holyrood would refuse to grant a legislative consent motion for the Bill.
“This whole process will take months, both the legislative process and the discussions,” he added.
“This process should end up with more powers coming to Scotland than are exercised here at the moment. We get there by agreeing what those powers should be, and when we’ve got to that point I can’t imagine the Scottish Government is going to object to that.
“We had a perfectly sensible discussion yesterday, we’ve agreed to carry on talking about the various issues on which we currently disagree, as well as the many things we agree about, and I think those discussions will reach a successful conclusion.
“I think the difficulties now will disappear at the end, that’s the point of having these talks, so we can resolve these issues.”
If a deal is reached, he said new powers will potentially be devolved to Scotland immediately after Brexit – though he added the talks had not yet identified any areas where this could happen.
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