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Veteran international lawyer says Holyrood will get few new powers directly from Brexit

Veteran international lawyer says Holyrood will get few new powers directly from Brexit

Picture Credit: Vit Simanek/AP/Press Association Images

The Scottish Parliament will get few new powers directly from Brexit, a veteran international lawyer has told MSPs.

Brexit also has the potential to detract Holyrood from implementing the powers it secured following the No vote in the independence referendum, Professor Alan Page said in a new report commissioned by the European and External Relations Committee.

Page - who has advised the European Union, the United Nations, the London Stock Exchange, Westminster, Holyrood and other influential organisations during his 40 year career in public law - said Westminster will acquire the majority of the powers repatriated from Brussels and Holyrood will get "correspondingly few".

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In an article for Holyrood Magazine last week, Prime Minister Theresa May said Scotland's status "will be enhanced" by Brexit.

In a separate Holyrood article, former SNP minister Alex Neil urged Nicola Sturgeon to focus on getting "as many as possible of the powers to be repatriated from Brussels to the UK transferred to the Scottish Parliament instead of Westminster".

But Page said without new amendments to the Scotland Act "the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would not affect the distribution of legislative competences between the UK and Scottish Parliaments".

He said: "The UK Parliament would...acquire the majority of the policy responsibilities that would fall to the UK following withdrawal from the EU, including those in respect of the free movement of goods, persons, services and capital, and the negotiation and conclusion of trade agreements with non-EU countries.

"The policy responsibilities that would fall to the Scottish Parliament are correspondingly few, the principal ones being in respect of justice and home affairs, agriculture, fisheries and the environment."

Brexit could imply that Holyrood laws should no longer be open to challenge on grounds of incompatibility with EU law. 

This has implications for the protracted battle with the Scotch Whisky Society over SNP plans to introduce a minimum unit price on alcohol, which a European court ruled "may breach EU law".

However, the Scottish Parliament may choose to opt-in to EU law "to maintain access to EU markets, or for reasons of legislative or administrative convenience", Page said.

He added: "Withdrawal will represent a major challenge for the Scottish Parliament with the potential to detract from other inquiry and scrutiny work at a time when it is assuming new responsibilities under the Scotland Act 2016. 

"As well as the withdrawal negotiations, UK matters that will be of particular interest to the Parliament will include the withdrawal legislation as well as legislation providing for the legal consequences of any future relationship with the EU."

Committee convener Joan MacAlpine, and SNP MSP, said: "We are still waiting for answers as to the kind of settlement that the Prime Minister and her government hope to achieve. 

"It is clear from this paper that, even with many EU powers likely to be reserved to Westminster, there will be a significant impact for Scotland."

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