Belfast Telegraph

Sturgeon 'refusing to give consent to EU Bill until power grab is removed'

Claims by Theresa May's deputy that Brexit talks with ministers from Britain's home nations have ended accusations of a "power grab" by Westminster have been rejected by the Scottish Government.

Damian Green held talks with representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the first formal meeting of the joint ministerial committee (JMC) for eight months, and claimed progress meant "talk of a power grab is now behind us".

The Scottish and Welsh governments have raised serious concerns over the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, which will see EU responsibilities in areas which would normally fall to devolved governments initially transferred to Westminster.

Scottish Brexit minister Michael Russell said Nicola Sturgeon would still recommend that Holyrood refuses to give its consent to the EU Bill "until the power grab is removed".

Scotland and Wales have insisted the legislation undermines the principles of devolution, and warned they cannot recommend that legislative consent is given to the Bill as it stands.

At the JMC, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were able to agree with the UK government general principles on their role in any post-Brexit arrangements.

But speaking after the meeting, Mr Russell said: " However we remain unable to recommend the Scottish Parliament consent to the EU Withdrawal Bill as currently drafted and will not be able to do so until the power grab is removed from the bill.

"I have and will continue to press for the amendments suggested by ourselves and the Welsh Government to be accepted, removing the power grab and providing a clear solution that respects devolution."

The UK Government has said it is necessary to bring powers back to Westminster before devolving them in order to develop common frameworks and prevent trade barriers being created within the UK.

Mr Green described the JMC as "very constructive" and "successful" but rejected accusations of a power grab.

The First Secretary of State told reporters: "I think you will see from principles that we have agreed today that talk of a power grab is now behind us.

"We've agreed that obviously there need to be ways in which we preserve the UK single market so we don't damage businesses in Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland.

"But (also) that we fully respect the devolution settlements, that we expect this to end with more powers going to the devolved administrations than they have had under the previous arrangement."

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said the agreement on the principles of how to move forward with powers returning to the UK from Brussels represented a "major step".

"These principles will underpin the decisions we need to take on which areas go directly to the Scottish Parliament and which will be subject to UK-wide frameworks," he said.

"I'm very pleased that we've moved in a positive direction and are building on the momentum from the bilateral meetings held with the Scottish Government over the summer. It is clear we have common agendas and a basis to take that forward."

Mr Russell welcomed the agreement with Mr Green that there would be another JMC before Christmas, but criticised the UK's overall approach to talks with Brussels.

He criticised the pursuit of a "hard Brexit" outside the single market and customs union, saying it would cause long-term economic damage, and pressed for a decision on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens.

Mr Russell added: "I hope that as discussion between the UK Government and the EU continue over the coming days we will see a way forward emerge. As I have made clear, it is crucial that Scotland's interests are properly represented at future negotiations."

The Welsh Government also made clear it remains opposed to the Bill.

Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: "It was a constructive meeting which gave us a real opportunity to discuss the UK Government's position in their negotiations with the EU27. We will meet again before Christmas.

"We agreed the principles that will underline any frameworks but that doesn't mean that we have stepped back at all from our opposition to the Withdrawal Bill. The Welsh Government will take part positively in the discussions that follow."

The principles agreed at the JMC on how to treat powers repatriated from the EU include a commitment that any common framework will "respect the devolution settlements and the democratic accountability of the devolved legislatures".

They will "lead to a significant increase in decision-making powers for the devolved administrations", and ensure that the competence of the devolved governments will not "normally" be adjusted without their consent.

They also state the need to enable the UK's internal market to function while acknowledging policy differences, and ensure Britain can sign new trade deals with other countries.

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