Opposition accuse SNP ministers of ‘power grab’ in emergency Brexit Bill
Amendments to the Scottish Government’s Brexit continuity bill were made as the legislation undergoes detailed scrutiny at Holyrood.
MSPs have forced through changes to the Scottish Government’s emergency Brexit legislation, as they accused ministers at Holyrood of attempting their own “power grab”.
Brexit Minister Mike Russell offered some concessions to members of the Finance and Constitution Committee – who are subjecting the Bill to detailed scrutiny.
On the controversial issue of giving Scottish ministers the power to keep pace with European Union regulations post Brexit, the legislation had originally proposed they have this power for up to 15 years – a five year period immediately after Brexit which could then be extended on another occasions, for five years each time.
However the committee voted to cut this back to a maximum total of five years – made up of three years after Brexit with two one-year extensions then permittable.
The change was supported by Conservative, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat MSPs.
SNP ministers at Holyrood introduced the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill amid an ongoing dispute with Westminster over the UK’s Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill – which itself has been branded a “power grab” by the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales.
But opposition MSPs raised concerns that the measures in the Scottish legalisation represented an attempt to seize powers for Holyrood ministers.
Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said Section 13 of the proposals “can only really be described as a ministerial seizure of the most extensive powers”.
He warned if this Bill was not changed it would mean that for 15 years “ministers of any persuasion can create new laws, abolish old laws, create new quangos”, and could even “imprison people for up to two years under offences brought to the statute book by regulations and not primary legislation”.
With the legislation being put through Holyrood on a dramatically reduced timetable, Mr Scott added: “It is really important this is carefully, carefully thought through, even in the time constraints we have today.
“If similar plans had been in the UK Bill they would have been subject to the scrutiny of two Houses of Parliament over months and months, not this much shorter period of time we are having to deal with this Bill here in Parliament today.”
His concerns were echoed by Labour’s James Kelly who claimed in Section 13 of the Bill, Brexit Minister Mike Russell was “using the legislation to enhance the powers of Scottish ministers”.
But Mr Russell said if Scottish ministers could not make law to keep up to changing European regulations, there risked being “serious damage” to industries such as the fish farming sector.
He stated: “We have to balance the requirement for scrutiny, ministerial restraint, ministerial supervision, with the requirement to do something in these exceptional circumstances.”
MSPs on the committee have now spent almost nine hours scrutinising the legislation, looking at more than 230 amendments in detail.
In a highly unusual move, the Scottish Parliament sat until 10.35pm on Tuesday night, with committee members having spent four hours and 50 minutes debating the issues at hand.
They resumed their considerations at 8am on Wednesday and went on for another three hours and 50 minutes.
They will sit again at 6.30pm in a bid to finish scrutiny of amendments and complete Stage 2 proceedings for the Bill.