Scotland Brexit continuity bill passes first stage

Written by Tom Freeman on 8 March 2018 in News

MSPs back principle of emergency legislation to circumvent the UK's EU Withdrawal Bill in heated debate

Scottish Parliament - Anita Gould

The Scottish Government’s emergency Brexit legislation has been backed by parliament at its first stage.

MSPs voted to back the general principles of the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill by 94 votes to 30, with the Scottish Conservatives opposing.

The bill has been brought forward by ministers after the UK Government refused to agree to pass all powers usually devolved to Scotland directly to Holyrood.

Negotiations between UK ministers and the devolved nations are ongoing, but both the Scottish and Welsh governments have described the repatriation of powers from Brussels as "a power grab".

The Scottish Government's continuity bill would enshrine existing EU laws in Scots law after Brexit, including the retention of the European charter of fundamental rights.

The debate in the Holyrood chamber was heated, with Labour’s Claire Baker describing it as unlike any previous stage one debate in parliament.

"We have not had time to pause or to catch breath," she said.

Brexit minister Michael Russell will enter the latest round of discussions with UK ministers today.

He told MSPs that he was “open to amendments” on his emergency legislation, but that parliament must make provision to protect devolution.

“The devolved settlement cannot be wished away. If the UK Government wishes to alter the devolved settlement, it must come with primary legislation to do so,” he said.

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins called the bill “unnecessary, seriously flawed, ill-thought through and incoherent,” pointing to the fact Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh ruled it outwith the competency of the Scottish Parliament.

Fellow Conservative MSPs called it a “wrecking bill” which raised the prospect of Scottish independence, but they failed to win over other opposition parties.

There were concerns over elements of the bill which could be seen as a “power grab” by Scottish ministers, something which had been raised by the Finance Committee.

Scottish Labour voiced “extreme disappointment” that such a bill was necessary. The party’s Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said: “I ask that Ruth Davidson and Mike Russell get their people back around the table and get the matter sorted.

“Let us get back to discussing the issues that the people that we represent see as a priority—their jobs, the economy, their living standards, the health and social care service, their children’s education and how we can build a future for all our people.”

Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said: “One of the reasons why legislation in this Parliament is a preferable route, from my point of view, is that it gives us the opportunity to move beyond arguments about what the UK Parliament ought to do with its legislation and to make changes to and improve legislation here.”

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