Great Repeal Bill “an attack on the founding principles of devolution”, say Scottish and Welsh governments
The UK Government’s so-called Great Repeal Bill has come under fire from both the Scottish and Welsh governments, with Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones using a joint statement to dismiss the bill as a “naked power grab” which will undermine the principles of devolution.
Publishing the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which will transfer EU legislation into UK law, UK Brexit Secretary David Davis called on MPs to “work together” as negotiations over the UK’s exit from the EU move forward.
But the bill came under criticism from both the Scottish and Welsh First Ministers, who accused the Prime Minister of launching “an attack on the founding principles of devolution” by transferring EU law to the UK Government, while imposing new restrictions on the devolved administrations.
The statement says: “This week began with the Prime Minister calling for a constructive and collaborative approach from those outside Whitehall to help get Brexit right. Today’s publication of The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the first test as to whether the UK Government is serious about such an approach. It is a test it has failed utterly.”
Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael, who preceded David Mundell as Scottish secretary, described the bill as an “executive power grab", warning Theresa May should "be ready for a fight" over devolved matters.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the Brexit bill is designed to maintain the British single market.
Powers will only be devolved if divergence from the UK framework is deemed to be acceptable.
But speaking at a briefing in London, Mundell rejected opposition claims. He said: "This is not a power grab – it is a power bonanza for the Scottish Parliament.
"After this Bill has been implemented the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it has today.
"Needless to say there will be a process row with the Scottish Government, because the Scottish Government does process rows — that is their speciality."
Meanwhile Sir Keir Starmer confirmed Labour would oppose the bill, with the shadow Brexit Secretary calling for changes in six areas, including the incorporation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law, limits on the powers of ministers to alter legislation without full parliamentary scrutiny, and guarantees that workers protections in the UK would not fall behind those of the EU.
Davis described the bill as “one of the most significant pieces of legislation that has ever passed through Parliament and is a major milestone in the process of our withdrawal from the European Union”.
He said: “By working together, in the national interest, we can ensure we have a fully functioning legal system on the day we leave the European Union.
“The eyes of the country are on us and I will work with anyone to achieve this goal and shape a new future for our country.”
The Joint Ministerial Committee allows dialogue between different UK administrations, including devolved governments, on matters which affect them.
But the UK Government has faced criticism from the Scottish Government over its approach to the meetings, with Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell describing meetings between the Scottish and UK governments as a “a wasted opportunity”.
The statement from the FMs of Scotland and Wales said: “We have repeatedly tried to engage with the UK Government on these matters, and have put forward constructive proposals about how we can deliver an outcome which will protect the interests of all the nations in the UK, safeguard our economies and respect devolution.
“Regrettably, the Bill does not do this. Instead, it is a naked power-grab, an attack on the founding principles of devolution and could destabilise our economies.
“Our two governments – and the UK government – agree we need a functioning set of laws across the UK after withdrawal from the EU. We also recognise that common frameworks to replace EU laws across the UK may be needed in some areas. But the way to achieve these aims is through negotiation and agreement, not imposition. It must be done in a way which respects the hard-won devolution settlements.
“The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does not return powers from the EU to the devolved administrations, as promised. It returns them solely to the UK Government and Parliament, and imposes new restrictions on the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales.
“On that basis, the Scottish and Welsh Governments cannot recommend that legislative consent is given to the Bill as it currently stands.
“The Bill lifts from the UK Government and Parliament the requirement to comply with EU law, but does the opposite for the devolved legislatures: it imposes a new set of strict restrictions. These new restrictions make no sense in the context of the UK leaving the EU.
“We have explained these points to the UK Government and have set out what we consider to be a constructive way forward in the spirit of co-operation, based on the involvement of, and respect for, devolved institutions.
“Unfortunately, the conversation has been entirely one-sided. We remain open to these discussions, and look forward to coming to an agreed solution between the governments of these islands.”