Lidington’s Brexit offer dismissed by Scottish and Welsh ministers
The Government was accused of trying to ‘unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement’.
David Lidington’s offer to rewrite the flagship Brexit bill to address the concerns of the devolved administrations has been dismissed by the Scottish and Welsh governments.
Theresa May’s Government is at odds with Holyrood and Cardiff Bay about whether powers returned from Brussels after Brexit go to the devolved administrations or Whitehall.
Mr Lidington said the UK Government had made a “considerable offer” to the devolved administrations with a commitment that the “vast majority” of powers returning from Brussels will start off in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast rather than Whitehall.
But Scotland’s Brexit Minister Michael Russell accused the Tory government of trying to “unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement”.
And Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones said further progress was needed that “goes beyond warm words” because the current version of the legislation was an “unacceptable attack on devolution”.
Setting out his proposals, Mr Lidington said they would mean “a very big change to the EU Withdrawal Bill that is before Parliament and a significant step forward in these negotiations”.
“If accepted, this offer puts beyond doubt our commitment to a smooth and orderly departure from the European Union, in a way that doesn’t just respect the devolution settlements, but strengthens and enhances them,” he said.
Speaking at Airbus in North Wales, Mr Lidington called for unity behind the approach to Brexit and warned that a “divided country at home” would be “weaker, less secure and less prosperous overseas”.
He said: “Leaving the EU presents many challenges for our centuries-old union story – and opportunities too.
“Some want to use this as an excuse to loosen these ties that bind us together or even sever them completely.
“I believe such an outcome would leave every one of our four nations both weaker and poorer.”
But Mr Russell said the UK Government’s approach “makes a mockery of claims to be a partnership of equals”, complaining about a lack of engagement from Whitehall.
He said: “However they try to dress this up, the reality is the UK Government is using Brexit to try to take control of devolved powers without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament.
“It is totally unacceptable for the Tories to unilaterally rewrite the devolution settlement that the people of Scotland voted for so overwhelmingly.
“We have always said we are not opposed to UK-wide arrangements on issues such as food labelling when they are in Scotland’s interests – but the fundamental point of principle is that any changes to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, permanent or temporary, can only be made with the agreement of Holyrood.
“And it is only because Westminster wants to take control of devolved powers that there is any debate on this issue at all.”
Mr Jones said: “I welcome the commitment of the UK Government to continue to work with us on their EU Withdrawal Bill.
“However, as currently drafted, the Bill allows the UK Government to take control of devolved policy areas, such as farming and fishing, once the UK has left the EU.
“This is an unacceptable attack on devolution in both Wales and Scotland.
“We now need further progress that goes beyond warm words and I hope the ‘very big changes’ promised in the speech equate to sensible amendments to the Bill which respect devolution.
“We will continue to work with the UK and Scottish Governments to that end.”