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UK Government "reluctance to meet" Scottish representatives

Published: 6 Jun 2018 10:27

Minister says EU Withdrawal Bill must be amended to respect devolution.

Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe Michael Russell has written to David Lidington, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to express his disappointment around the UK Government’s “reluctance to meet” representatives from across the Scottish Parliament following the decision not to consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The bill returns to the House of Commons next Tuesday (12 June).

The full text of the letter below:

06 June 2018

Dear David,   

Thank you for your letter of 1 June on legislative consent for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

I am happy to acknowledge our past constructive discussions, which makes it particularly disappointing you have not accepted the invitation to meet the parties in Scotland nor made any suggestions to address or respect the Parliament’s views.

I should say that I do not accept that respecting devolved competence would “prevent” the management of UK-wide impacts of withdrawal from the EU.  The effect would actually be that management of UK-wide impacts in devolved areas would require the agreement of devolved institutions in line with their responsibilities and powers, in the normal way.

You have recognised that clause 15 (formerly 11) of the Bill requires the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament; the UK Government’s own supporting documents also make this clear.  That consent has not been forthcoming.  By constitutional convention and practice since 1999, the Bill cannot complete its Westminster stages in its current form without that consent. The UK Government must now explain how – not if - it proposes to reflect the views of the Scottish Parliament.

If no alternative approach is proposed by the UK Government to respond to the Scottish Parliament’s views the correct constitutional position is for the UK Government to remove Clause 15 (formerly 11) as it relates to Scotland from the Bill. 

Given the Bill makes reference to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately you are able to respond appropriately to the absence of consent from Scotland without affecting in any way the agreement reached with Wales or the position in relation to Northern Ireland.

A failure on the UK Government’s part to act in line with the refusal of the Scottish Parliament to consent to the Bill would wilfully undermine the devolution settlement and the confidence of the Scottish Parliament in the UK Government’s respect for devolution. 

Legislative consent is required on a regular basis across a range of portfolios.  It has invariably and consistently worked until this point because the views of the Scottish Parliament have always been respected and properly taken into account in legislation. I urge you to reflect on that carefully in  considering the UK Government’s position.

I will be consulting the other Scottish Parliamentary parties regarding your reluctance to meet with them as I requested in my letter of 15 May and will respond to you thereafter.  However, given reports that the EU Withdrawal Bill is due to return to the Commons next Tuesday, and that the UK Government must bring forward the necessary amendments to reflect the Scottish Parliament’s view before then, I am also publishing this correspondence today.  I am of course always happy to discuss these matters face to face, or by phone, whenever you would wish to do so.   

I am copying this letter to Richard Leonard, Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie, Patrick Harvie and David Mundell.

Michael Russell