Brexit: Scottish parliament refuses to grant consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill, risking a constitutional crisis

UK

The Scottish parliament has voted against backing Theresa May’s key piece of Brexit legislation, paving the way for a constitutional crisis.

Politicians at Holyrood refused to grant consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill, meaning Downing Street may have to take the unprecedented step of overruling the Edinburgh assembly to make Brexit happen.

There is still a chance that Westminster and the Scottish National Party administration may strike a deal in a row about powers returning to the UK from Brussels after withdrawal.

It comes amid stalemate in Brussels Brexit talks, in efforts to pass the withdrawal bill and others through parliament and in the cabinet’s attempts to compromise on what kind of future customs relations to seek.

There is a battle between London and Edinburgh about what happens to powers currently held in Brussels after Brexit, with the SNP claiming some relating to agriculture and fisheries that should go to Scotland, will be usurped by London under Ms May’s bill.

Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell told MSPs they needed to defend the progress which has been made in the 20 years of devolution.

He said: “It is our job to ensure that it is not cast aside because of a Brexit which Scotland did not vote for and which can only be damaging to our country.

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“Today the challenge of Brexit – or rather the challenge of the proposed power grab by the UK government under the guise of delivering Brexit – puts our devolved settlement at risk.”

A Scottish government motion making clear that Edinburgh’s assembly “does not consent” to the EU Withdrawal Bill was approved by 93 votes to 30.

​SNP, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat MSPs all voted against consent, with only the Scottish Conservatives arguing that changes already made to the bill go far enough to protect devolution.

If no deal between Edinburgh and London is reached, Westminster has the option of enacting the legislation against the wishes of the Scottish parliament – something which has never been done before and which could spark a constitutional crisis.

The move would also strengthen the hand of the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon as she continues to make the case for Scottish independence.

Mr Russell said the vote will “not be the end of the process”, adding that he will now write to Ms May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, calling on him to come to Scotland and “hear the concerns of all parties”.

While Mr Lidington has said he is “open to suggestions that would improve the bill” the UK government has repeatedly refused to drop the clause from the legislation which is at the centre of the dispute.

Ministers in London say no powers will be held back from Edinburgh in the future, but that the process set out in the bill is necessary to ensure a smooth Brexit.

Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins said: “It’s profoundly regrettable that we don’t have a deal in Scotland to allow us to move on.

“The blame for that lies entirely with the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon has refused to compromise. It’s not in Scotland’s interests that the SNP prefers picking fights to making a deal.”

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