The Scottish Parliament will take forward emergency legislation this month to protect Scotland’s devolved powers from the “unfolding disaster of Brexit” caused primarily by the chaos, incompetence and splits at the heart of the UK Tory Government.
The UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill is an essential part of the SNP Government’s preparation for leaving the European Union (EU) to minimise instability. It is energetically supported by the Scottish Green Party and, more cautiously, by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Only Tory MSPs oppose it, unsurprisingly as their loyalty is first and foremost to the UK Government, no matter how shambolic, rather than Scotland.
Readers should recall that this entire Brexit shambles was caused by former Prime Minister David Cameron miscalculating that he could avoid a Tory civil war by holding an EU referendum he thought the Remain side would win easily. Subsequently, the Tories said Brexit would deliver a “powers bonanza” for Scotland, with new devolved responsibilities. In fact, the UK Government is seeking to remove powers Scotland already has.
It is important to appreciate that this Bill is not an attempt to win extra powers from Westminster. It is about protecting the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament in relation to key policy areas including farming, fishing, justice and the environment. To be effective, the Continuity Bill must be passed before the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill makes its way through the unelected House of Lords.
The Prime Minister’s approach to handling the UK’s devolved administrations has been utterly dismissive. Since the results of the 2016 referendum were announced, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have been denied the opportunity to make any meaningful contribution to the Brexit process, despite the fact that Scotland and Wales are predicted to be more adversely hit by leaving the EU than England.
Contrary to established practice with Bills that require legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament, there was no consultation on the content of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Also known as the Great Repeal Bill, this will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU and end the European Court of Justice’s remit in the UK.
Regardless of the fact that 62% of Scottish voters voted to remain within the EU, a competent Withdrawal Bill is a proper and necessary step in preparing our laws for the day when the UK leaves. Without this, matters such as agricultural support and the rules that ensure our high food standards would fall away entirely overnight.
Tory Cabinet Minister David Lidington MP demonstrated his appalling ignorance of Devolution last week, by claiming that any divergence from the rest of the UK would result in a “disjointed” economy and leave Britain “struggling to make our way in a new world outside the EU.” In a bizarre twist, he ludicrously suggested that the Scottish and Welsh Governments are jeopardising cross-border organ transplants by protecting their devolved powers. There is simply no question of current arrangements across the UK ending post-Brexit, or that Scotland will cease to share organs with our UK neighbours. To claim that this will happen is to wilfully mislead the people of Scotland and Wales.
Like most of my cross-party colleagues at Holyrood, I regret Scotland is even in this position and know the SNP Government will continue negotiations with the UK Government to try and secure an agreement regarding the UK’s EU Withdrawal Bill that means we don’t have to proceed to implementation of the Continuity Bill. Meanwhile, the SNP Government, backed by the Scottish Parliament, will act to protect Scotland’s devolved powers.