Scottish Secretary David Mundell has refused to give MSPs a guarantee that Westminster will not overrule their wishes if they withhold consent for key Brexit legislation.
Mr Mundell said he still hoped the Scottish Parliament will grant legislative consent to the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.
However, senior SNP MSP Bruce Crawford, a former Scottish Government minster and the convener of Holyrood’s Constitution Committee, said there was now a “distinct possibility” that MSPs would not approve the legislation.
While that would not veto the Bill, it would be the first time the UK Government had passed legislation against Holyrood’s wishes.
Mr Crawford pressed the Scottish Secretary five times on what the Conservative government at Westminster would do if the Scottish Parliament fails to consent to the legislation.
However, Mr Mundell insisted he was focusing his efforts on reaching a deal with Scottish ministers.
He said: “Rather than speculating on numerous scenarios, I want to make sure we are focusing on getting agreement.”
Mr Crawford told him: “Given you have not given a definitive position, I can only conclude then in these circumstances the UK Government would be prepared to ignore the will of the Scottish Parliament.”
The clash took place amid the ongoing wrangle between the Scottish and UK governments over what should happen to powers currently held in Brussels when the UK quits the European Union.
Talks in London on Wednesday evening failed to reach agreement, with Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell saying then that if MSPs do not consent to the Bill, the UK must respect that.
Mr Mundell accepted that while the originally drafted legislation “might have been seen to be too far in favour of the UK Government”, significant changes have been made since then.
As a result of these, the Welsh Government, which had been united with Scotland in opposition to the Withdrawal Bill, dropped its objections.
The Scottish Parliament is expected to vote on whether or not it will consent to the legislation on Tuesday May 15.
The UK Government wants to work with @scotgov to ensure laws across the UK continue to work well when we leave the EU. Itâs important for many reasons â and will see more powers go to the Scottish Parliament. #devolution #DeliveringforScotland https://t.co/IAEX8aDntp pic.twitter.com/qtIRv5aSI3— UK Gov Scotland (@UKGovScotland) May 2, 2018
To resolve the dispute Mr Mundell said a new solution, or “some third way”, may be needed – although he added he was “not clear what that is”.
Despite that he told MSPs: “I want to put all our efforts into getting an agreement with the Scottish Government, I still would like to see agreement with the Scottish Government and I would like to see this Parliament give legislative consent to our Bill.”
He added: “If we get to a point where agreement hasn’t been reached, then that’s the point at which not just speculation, but clearly events will unfold.”
The Scottish Secretary was giving evidence to Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee – which has previously warned the UK proposals risk damaging “the integrity of the devolution settlement in Scotland”.
Questioning him on what could happen if Holyrood refused to grant approval to it, Mr Crawford said: “I recognise there is still two weeks to go but there is a distinct possibility this Parliament will refuse consent. What will you recommend to the UK Government in these circumstances?”
Mr Mundell responded: “I’m still going to give you the same answer, that I want to focus my efforts on ensuring that we do get consent.”
The Tory added: “I do want to encourage the Parliament to support a legislative consent motion, but I recognise that is entirely a matter for this Parliament.”
Asked about Mr Mundell’s comments First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I think two things are relevant; that the Secretary of State refused to say that the UK Government would respect any decision that this Parliament takes around legislative consent for the Withdrawal Bill.
“In the absence of a commitment of that nature how can we be expected to take the UK Government at its word that it would respect our decisions on consent when it comes to any future orders that might be laid at a later stage?”
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions she added: “The Secretary of State also semed to confirm that even if every single member of this Parliament was to vote in future to withhold consent on a regulation that was being laid to reserve power at Westminster then they could still take that as consent and do it anyway.
“That’s not a definition of consent that I think anybody across the country will be familiar with. We want to get to an agreement on this but we will not do so if the UK Government is insisting on riding roughshod over the powers of this Parliament.”